Airport Regulations Coercing Airlines into Flying Empty Planes

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Due to coronavirus fears, many people are cancelling travel plans, leaving some flights without any passengers. But why are airlines flying empty planes?

  • European airport regulators require airlines to use assigned slots 80% of the time or lose them, forcing carriers to put “ghost flights” into the air without passengers.
  • The U.K.’s Secretary of State for Transport asked the airport slot coordinator to relax this regulation to stop the environmentally irresponsible action of flying empty planes.
  • Quite obviously, flying empty planes is a waste of fuel and an unnecessary contribution to the air travel industry’s emissions.

Empty airline departure loungeAmong the industries hardest hit by coronavirus are airlines, as fliers cancel travel plans en masse. (Photo: Getty Images)

“Ghost planes”

As reported by the London Times, airlines using European airports are required by regulations to put these “ghost flights” into the air or lose their take-off and landing slots. Due to a travel regulation, if the airlines don’t adhere to these assigned time slots 80% of the time, they lose the privilege.

After Grant Shapps, the U.K.’s Secretary of State for Transport, got wind of these “ghost flights,” he wrote to the independent airport slot coordinator asking for the regulation to be relaxed during the coronavirus outbreak, which the World Health Organization just declared a pandemic. Airlines UK, which represents the carriers, requested Shapps intervene to put the rule on hiatus until at least autumn, when airline travel will hopefully rebound.

Apparently, ghost flights aren’t all that unusual. With the “use it or lose it” rule, airlines are forced to fly planes that are empty or nearly so. Yet with the increased scrutiny on emissions in the transportation industry, this anachronistic regulation fell under the spotlight.


Although the 80/20 rule may have made sense in another time, flying empty planes now is a flagrant foul against the environment. It shouldn’t take government intervention for business, industries, and organizations to reassess current practices and do everything possible to clean up their act.

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