The European Commission has agreed to extend the waiver of "use it or lose it" slot rules in the European Union for the Winter 2020/21 season in light of the ongoing lack of demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Air traffic levels remain low, and more importantly, they are not likely to recover in the near future. In this context, the lack of certainty over slots makes it difficult for airlines to plan their schedules, making planning difficult for airports and passengers. To address the need for certainty and responding to traffic data, I intend to extend the slot waiver for the 2020/2021 winter season, until 27 March 2021," Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean said.

Vălean clarified that the extension for the winter season will remain voluntary but she expects "the industry to abide by the agreed conditions". She added that for the following seasons, the EU administration would seek to adopt "fully enforceable conditions", suggesting that the Commission could seek to alter pre-pandemic rules.

"Now it is also the time to start reflecting on how to return to a normal slot regime once air traffic picks up to more stable levels. The Commission is currently consulting the public and stakeholders on this initiative, and I hope to present a proposal before the end of the year," Vălean said.

The Commission waived slot rules in March 2020, absolving airlines from having to operate 80% of frequencies in order to retain a slot. This move stopped carriers from operating "ghost flights" with no passengers. Most of the EU legacy carriers have vocally called for the extension of the waiver given the slower than expected, and recently altogether paused, recovery of the market.

Wizz Air was one of the leading opponents of the extension of the waiver. The LCC hoped to scoop slots at some of the most congested airports, notably London Gatwick, as incumbent carriers trimmed their networks.

Although the Commission decided to extend the waiver, Vălean recognised arguments made by the Hungarian LCC.

"Slots are not always relinquished in time for other users or airports to plan operations as they would like; competition may also be distorted if airlines seek to benefit by increasing their market presence without using their slots and airport capacity correctly. Such behaviour can hamper competition and can, therefore, harm EU passengers and freight customers. This must be remedied," she said.