The European Shippers’ Council (ECS) wants national governments to look closely into the slot allocation problem, which is very discriminatory for the air cargo industry. The Netherlands may lead the way.
At the moment the existing system puts cargo carriers at a disadvantage, especially as members of the national parliaments are discussing additional criteria for allocating slots
like sustainability, noise reduction, and an economic output of the flight.
The capacity problem is caused by the growth in aviation, with some major airports reaching their current limits. In Europe, Amsterdam and London Heathrow are among the most affected. At many airports the problem has led to a fight between home carriers, low cost carriers, and cargo carriers for maintaining their position.
Cargo carriers are losing ground due to the 80-20 regulation for maintaining historic rights. This comes into effect when the demand for slots outpaces availability. The regulation is supposed to ensure a non-discriminatory way of allocating slots at national airports. It does, however, not consider the complexity of cargo operations, because carriers tend to postpone their mandated take-off times if the loading process is not fully accomplished.
Call for flexibility
ESC’s air cargo advisor Rogier Spoel says that the organization does not want the European regulation in slot allocation to be replaced by the national states. “We would like to see Europe giving the member states the necessary flexibility to make their own considerations regarding the segments of the industry they want to favour when allocating slots. In tourist-oriented regions their main interest will be in passenger operations, but in regions with an economy that is highly dependent on logistics, like the Benelux countries or Germany, they might want to give cargo operations a chance to prosper.”
ESC thinks that the governments could interfere with the slots allocation. They could make sure that different stakeholders (home carriers, low cost carriers, and cargo carriers) are well represented at the major airports. Looking at the above-mentioned criteria – sustainability, noise reduction, and an economic output of the flight – these could be used for the selection process, without making it discriminatory.
ESC points out that the output of cargo in terms of employment and economic development is much higher than what low cost flights bring in. This factor should be beneficial to full freighter flights that are now suffering from the capacity restrictions. On the other hand factors like sustainability and noise reduction plead against the air cargo sector. The shippers think that they can also be a push for the sector to do more for sustainability and the lowering of noise.
Threefold Dutch proposal
Last week the AMS-based airlines agreed on a local rule proposal, which should be more beneficial to cargo carriers. According to the umbrella organization Air Cargo Netherlands it is made up of three parts, the first of which is securing historic rights. This would create the necessary flexibility to deviate from the allocated slots for commercial and/or operational reasons. In the air cargo industry especially it is desirable to be able to adjust schedules to the actual demand.
Secondly some space should be created for the repositioning of aircraft that for some reason (calamities, force majeure) have deviated from the allocated slots. Last but not least, the proposal calls for slot optimization through yielding, i.e. the re-allocation of non-flown slots (by cancellations). In this a 25% priority should be given to cargo operations.
Hence, the ball is right back in the Dutch politician’s court.
Marcel Schoeters in Brussels