Home Travel EU hits back in Lufthansa-Ryanair ‘ghost flights’ spat

EU hits back in Lufthansa-Ryanair ‘ghost flights’ spat

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LOW-cost airline Wizz Air has joined Ryanair’s ‘ghost flights’ spat with German carrier Lufthansa, insisting slots should not be reserved for “inefficient” firms.

uropean rules have been eased during the pandemic to allow airlines to retain take-off and landing slots if they can’t operate due to travel restrictions, but Ryanair and Wizz Air say those slots should now be freed up for low-cost carriers.

“We would be able to operate those slots at constrained airports, so why are they protected for the benefit of legacy carriers who are incapable of operating them because they are inefficient?” Wizz Air CEO Jozsef Varadi told Reuters yesterday.

The row broke out following a recent newspaper interview with Carsten Spohr, the head of Germany’s largest air carrier, who implied that EU rules were forcing him to operate environmentally unfriendly flights without passengers.

An EU official slammed Lufthansa for what he called an “unnecessary fuss” and said the bloc allows generous opt-outs on slot rules during the pandemic.

Ryanair accused the Lufthansa chief on Wednesday of making “false claims” about climate change to cover for his real aim of “eliminating competition and consumer choice”.

The EU has approved millions of euros in aid to Lufthansa and its subsidiaries, including Brussels Airlines, which Ryanair is appealing.

“Instead of operating empty flights just so they can block slots, Lufthansa should release the seats on these flights for sale at low fares to reward the German and European taxpayers,” Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary said in a statement this week.

“Lufthansa loves crying crocodile tears about the environment when doing everything possible to protect its slots.”

A European Commission spokesman said that “the decision to keep a flight in the air is a commercial decision” and that EU rules allow for pandemic opt-outs to deal with travel restrictions.

“We don’t see why Lufthansa would need to operate any empty flights to maintain their slots. This is simply not happening,” a senior EU official said. “This is an unnecessary fuss.”

The official said that rather than operating empty flights, Lufthansa has actually cancelled more than a third of the flights for which it has sold tickets.

“This is not a good service to passengers,” the official said.

EU rules say that airlines have to use 80pc of their slot rights to keep them for the next season, which runs from year to year.

That threshold was reduced to zero at the beginning of the pandemic and currently stands at 50pc, but will rise to 64pc for the summer season, which begins in April.

The ghost flights were used to ensure pilots and aircraft maintained the validity of air licences and certificates.

Airlines can still apply for a “justified non-use” opt-out from the rules, as Netherlands and Austria did when they imposed Omicron-related restrictions late last year.

The row comes as the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Willie Walsh, warned that governments have over-reacted to the spread of Omicron, leading to a “more difficult” first quarter of 2022 than expected.


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