‘Ghost Flights’ Controversy Continues as Thousands of Near Empty Flights Operate in Europe
Controversy in the European airline industry is continuing in response to the European Union’s “use it or lose it” slot rules meaning airline carriers are operating near empty planes in order to hold on to valued airport slots. The European Commission rules were suspended in March 2020 in response to the damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic but are now being reinforced on an incremental basis. Airlines are currently required to use 50% of their allocated airport slots and this is due to rise to 80% this summer.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has directed his anger on the issue towards German carrier Lufthansa and has called on the EU Commission to ignore “false claims” by the airline. In a statement Ryanair claims that Lufthansa is not operating so called “ghost flights” due to concerns about the environment but rather “so they can further save the slot regime to protect their slots, which they aren’t using, while eliminating competition and consumer choice.”
Speaking to a German newspaper in December, Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr said, “Due to the weak demand in January, we would have reduced significantly more flights. But we have to make 18,000 additional, unnecessary flights in winter just to secure our take-off-and-landing rights. “
In relation to environmental concerns he said, “While climate-friendly exemptions were found in almost all other parts of the world during the time of the pandemic, the EU does not allow this in the same way. That harms the climate and is exactly the opposite of what the EU Commission wants to achieve with its ‘Fit for 55’ program.”
Michael O’Leary claimed in the statement that Lufthansa’s operation of “ghost flights” was an attempt to alleviate competition and accused the airline of being insincere when it comes to the environment.
He said “Lufthansa loves crying crocodile tears about the environment when doing everything possible to protect its slots. Slots are the way it blocks competition and limits choice at big hub airports like Frankfurt, Brussels Zaventem, Vienna, among others. If Lufthansa doesn’t want to operate ‘ghost flights’ to protect its slots, then simply sell these seats at low fares, and help accelerate the recovery of short and long-haul air travel to and from Europe.”
The Ryanair statement presented what the airline considers a solution to the issue saying, “Lufthansa should sell the seats on these flights at low fares, and reward EU consumers many of whom have funded the €12bn of State Aid that Lufthansa and their subsidiaries in Belgium, Austria and Switzerland have already received from hard pressed taxpayers over the last 2 years of the Covid crisis.”
The budget airline also called on the EU Commission to force legacy carriers to release slots in order that budget airlines can avail of them.