The “ghost flights” scandal: are empty planes haunting our skies?
What are “ghost flights”?
Empty or almost empty planes that operate scheduled flights so that airlines can meet their contractual obligations. EU law says carriers must exploit a percentage of flights (traditionally 80%) to conserve valuable take-off and landing slots, especially at busy airports: the so-called “use it or lose it” rule -the”.
How many are there?
This supposedly rare event has become more common during pandemic shutdowns. More than 10,000 phantom flights flew over European skies in the winter of 2021/22 according to a recent analysis by Greenpeace, while The Guardian reported that 15,000 have flown since March 2020, based on an analysis of the Department of Transport Civil Aviation Authority airport data.
Why is it important?
In October 2021, the aviation industry pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The environmental damage caused by ghost flights, according to Greenpeace, is “equivalent to annual emissions of more than 1.4 million cars”.
When do they fly?
According to the European Commission (EC), they do not. The EC temporarily suspended the European airport slot rule for a short period during the pandemic and said it had not created problems for airlines during this period. He reinstated the rule in October 2021.
What does this mean for consumers?
Airlines may deny they’re running ghost flights, but they’re certainly able to exploit them during travel bans: they don’t have to cancel flights even if pandemic restrictions mean their passengers can’t travel anymore . This left consumers out of pocket. The EC’s Denied Boarding Regulations state that if a UK or EU airline cancels a flight departing or landing in the region, they must refund passengers or offer an alternative flight. However, if the flight is not canceled, consumers may miss out on refunds.
Who fly ?
Lufthansa, from data from which the Greenpeace figure was extrapolated to apply to all European carriers, said it faced the prospect of some 18,000 unnecessary flights during the recent winter season of six months to keep its slots according to European rules. However, a spokesperson for the carrier also said: “Unnecessary flights are not empty or ‘ghost’ flights. These are scheduled flights that are poorly booked due to the pandemic. »
What happens if an airline loses its slots?
Airport slot rules aim to maximize competition and keep airfares low by incentivizing airlines to steal, swap or return unused slots so that other airlines can fly them instead. . Critics including Willie Walsh, director of the International Air Transport Association, argue that this encourages airlines to fly at low capacity or empty to hold onto slots.
What is the solution ?
Air France says it wants more flexibility in slot rules, while Ryanair has called on airlines to sell unused seats at lower prices and the EC to force carriers to release unused slots. Tim Johnson, director of the Aviation Environment Federation, called for airlines “with a modern full aircraft to be preferred over competing carriers, who operate with much lower load factors or
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