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Airlines in Europe fly almost to full capacity to secure landings

BRUSSELS – Europe’s skies are filling up with nearly empty polluting planes that serve the lesser purpose of protecting airlines’ precious time at some of the world’s most important airports. gender.

The highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 has rendered many people unable to fly, and as a result, getting people and goods from point A to point B has become an afterthought for thousands of flights. It has created strange corporate partnerships, with environmentalists and major airlines united to cut back on empty or near-empty flights by pressuring the European Union – a global leader committed to combating climate change – adjusting airport vacancy regulations.

“The EU is definitely in a climate emergency,” activist Greta Thunberg tweeted ironically this week, linking to a story about Brussels Airlines doing unnecessary flights.

The company has said that if the EU does not act, it will have to fly about 3,000 journeys this winter mainly to protect its cyber rights.

German airline giant Lufthansa said it would have to fly an extra 18,000 “non-essential” flights over the winter to reserve seats. Even if the holidays bring a huge increase in passenger numbers – marked by thousands of flight cancellations leaving travelers stranded – the rest of the winter period could slow as Omicron rises all around the world.

Landing and departure locations for popular routes at the largest airports are an extremely valuable commodity in the industry, and to keep them airlines must ensure high flight rates. That’s why loss-making flights must be maintained to ensure companies hold their seats.

It’s an accepted practice despite concerns about pollution, but the decline of the flying pandemic has questioned that. Normally, airlines have to use 80% of their given seats to protect their interests, but the EU has cut that number down to 50% to ensure as few empty or near-empty planes fly in the skies. heaven better.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration waived similar minimum vacancy rules through March 26, citing the pandemic. Slots are limited to select US airports only, including Kennedy and LaGuardia in New York and Reagan Washington National outside Washington.

Just last month, when there was still some hope that the pandemic might eventually abate, the European Commission confirmed the 50% rule but said it would be increased to 64% by the end of March.

However, major airlines such as Lufthansa, Air France and KLM say they are looking forward to further flexibility, including further lowering thresholds across time frames.

“More flexibility is needed in the short term, not only in the summer but also in the current winter schedule,” a Lufthansa statement said. “Without this crisis-related flexibility, airlines are forced to fly with nearly empty planes, just to secure their seats.”

KLM agrees.

“So if the rest of the season is very disappointing, as an airline you could be in a situation where you might lose your seat because of a cancellation or flying with a half-full plane. Both situations. are undesirable,” the Dutch company said.

It puts the EU in a bind. On the one hand, it needs to ensure that airport slots are open to fair competition, allowing newcomers to scramble for them if they are not fully utilized, and on the other, it wants to prevent planes pollute the fly as much as possible.

EU Transport Commissioner Adina Valean last month acknowledged Omicron’s threat to the tourism industry, but as of Thursday she had yet to announce any new regulations.

Belgium’s Transport Minister Georges Gilkinet wrote her a stinging letter and is lobbying her EU partners to join the initiative and ramp up the pressure.

“The high levels of pollution generated by these flights are completely contrary to the EU’s climate goals,” according to the letter from the AP news agency.

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