The European Commission has proposed restoring its normal 80% slot use threshold for the Winter 2022/23 season, although it wants to retain a Justified Non-Use of Slots (JNUS) mechanism to respond more flexibly to unpredictable crises.

"Demand for air traffic is clearly back, and the time has come to return to normal slot use rates to ensure the efficient use of airport capacity, with fair and competitive access for airlines, to the benefit of passengers. But we must make sure we are better prepared for the unexpected," EU Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean said.

According to the proposal, which has to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, the 80/20 rule would be reinstated on October 30, 2022. Under it, airlines which do not use an allocated slot at a slot-controlled EU airport at least 80% of the time during one season would lose it the following year's season.

The rule was suspended from February 1, 2020, through March 27, 2021, on account of the pandemic. It was subsequently gradually increased to the current 64%.

However, despite plans to reinstate pre-COVID rules, the Commission wants to retain the JNUS mechanism. Introduced during the pandemic, it allows airlines to return slots in case of unpredictable external factors influencing their ability to use the allocations. While the rule was created with lockdowns and flight bans in mind, the Commission pointed out that other events, such as the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, could also constitute a legitimate reason to return slots temporarily.

In order to ensure transparent use of JNUS exceptions, the Commission proposes to strengthen the role of the European Airport Coordinators Association which would be tasked with determining which destinations are eligible for JNUS conditions at any given time.

The Commission proposed to keep the new framework with the 80/20 rule and JNUS at least through the end of March 2024.

Airport operators association ACI Europe welcomed the Commission's proposal.

"It reflects the need to shift from protecting the airport slot portfolios of incumbent airlines to promoting an effective use of airport capacity and the restoration of Europe's vital air connectivity - now that COVID-19 travel restrictions have been largely erased or even abolished both within Europe and in most other world regions," the lobby group said in a statement.

In turn, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has been far more critical, calling the EU's plans "premature".

"The chaos we have seen at certain airports this summer has occurred with a slot use threshold of 64%. We are worried that airports will not be ready in time to service an 80% threshold by the end of October. It is essential the Member States and Parliament adjust the Commission's proposal to a realistic level and permit flexibility to the slot use rules," IATA Director General William Walsh said.