The Council of the European Union has approved an extension of a bloc-wide slot waiver through at least the end of the Summer 2021 season, although the adopted law includes provisions allowing for an extension for another year.

The Council, which represents the member states' governments, voted on the proposal on February 15. The European Parliament approved the measure on February 10, which means that they can now be gazetted and thus come into effect well ahead of the summer 2021 season's start on March 28, 2021.

The new regulation lowers the required utilisation rate for slots at all EU airports from the normal 80% to 50%. In addition, airlines will be allowed to temporarily return slots they do not plan to use. They can return up to half of all their slots, effectively lowering the required number of operations needed to retain the remainder. The airlines will regain the slots for the next summer season.

The slots need to be returned at least three weeks in advance to allow other airlines to assume them and use them for their own flights. However, by definition, these flights will be temporary due to the non-permanent nature of the slot transfer.

The regulation grants the European Commission the right to extend the slot waiver for a further two seasons without any additional EU or EU parliamentary approval needed, effectively making it much easier to prolong the measures. If it wants to extend the regulation, the European Commission will be able to set the required utilisation threshold at any level between 30% and 70%, depending on market conditions.

The EU's previous relief measures for the Summer 2020 and the Winter 2020/21 seasons were based on a complete waiver of any utilisation thresholds with no incentives for airlines to return slots they did not plan to use.