The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has extended a waiver for dormancy and startup conditions for all carriers holding international traffic rights due to ongoing restrictions and a slump in demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In the circumstances presented, the Department finds that extension of the temporary blanket relief from these conditions is in the public interest, and that it will continue to serve the public interest to afford air carriers flexibility to begin or resume their international services as market conditions warrant, without risk that they will lose their route or frequency awards for nonuse," the DOT said.

The regulator initially waived its dormancy and startup conditions on March 27, 2020, responding to the sudden shutdown of international air traffic. The initial waiver was valid through the end of October 2020. The DOT subsequently extended the waiver to cover the Winter 2020/21 and the Summer 2021 scheduling seasons. The current extension prolongs the waiver through March 27, 2022, when the Winter 2021/22 scheduling season ends.

The DOT said that any rights not in use as of March 27, 2022, will be returned. The regulator will request the airlines to provide the list of rights they do not want to use on March 1, 2022, to facilitate their reallocation to others.

"The Department recognizes that specific cases may call for relief going beyond that which we have deemed justified on a blanket basis in the current circumstances. In this regard, air carriers may seek further extension of the waiver beyond March 26, 2022, for specific city-pair limited entry services where they can demonstrate that circumstances warrant," the DOT added.

The extension was granted at the request of Airlines for America (A4A), an industry lobby group.