JFK NYC ©Flickr

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will be extending its pandemic rules for another six months to help airlines keep their take-off and landing slots.

The extension is expected to be published next week and will apply to JFK international and LaGuardia in New York and Reagan National Airport in DC. There is also talk of wavier extensions for Newark-liberty Airport in New Jersey, O’Hare in Chicago, and LA and San Francisco international airports.

The rule is for international flights only and will last until 29 October 2022. This is the fifth time that the FAA will have extended the slot-use wavier, which was first introduced at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. The regulator said that the recent decision was down to “the evolving and highly unpredictable situation globally” around COVD 19.

What will the waiver mean for airlines?

The slot-use waiver will mean that airlines can retain their airport slots, even if they cancel some of their international flights. Under normal circumstances, an airline has to use their landing slots, or they will lose them. For instance, in the UK, an airline had to use their slots at least 80% of the time to maintain possession, a number which was adjusted to 50% during the pandemic when flights were more scarce.

Lufthansa Airbus Ghost Flight to maintain slots
European airlines were forced to operate thousands of “ghost flights” during the pandemic just to keep their airport slots | © Marco Macca / Travel Radar

Airport slots are highly competitive, with some being bought and sold for millions of dollars. If an airline forfeits a slot by failing to use it enough, it will be allocated to a rival airline by the slot coordinators. Slots are so valuable to airlines that some European carriers have been flying “ghost flights” with almost no passengers, just so that they can keep their coveted slots. The FAA hopes that their waiver extension will prevent this from being an issue in the US.

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