UK DfT launches airport slot allocation reform consultation

Posted on 4 December, 2023 by Advance 

For the first time since the 1990s, the UK aviation industry will have a say on its airport slot regime as the Department for Transport (DfT) today launches the airport slot allocation system reform consultation.

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Like parking spaces for planes, slots are used to manage capacity at the busiest airports across the country. A slot gives permission for an airline to use the full range of airport infrastructure – from runways to terminals – to operate on a specific date and time.

Following its departure from the EU, UK aviation is no longer shackled by an outdated slot regime and can now take a more tailored approach that works best for businesses and passengers across the country.

The reforms being consulted on will include proposals for new ways to manage slot capacity and how they are allocated to airlines.

This includes limiting slot leasing, so instead of larger airlines monopolising slots, they can be allocated to other competitors if not used after a set period – allowing for newer or smaller airlines with possible cheaper prices to receive favourable slots and make the process more dynamic. The reforms also aim to give more powers to respond to crises, making the industry more resilient and efficient in times of uncertainty.

The current system, based on EU regulations, requires the slot allocation process to be consistent across Europe but while the sector has developed and grown in the last 20 years, the rules of the slot system have remained unchanged. Now, with our new freedoms, we can ensure that the system takes the UK’s specific needs into account.

These pivotal reforms, designed to balance the interests of both airlines and airports, have the potential to usher in heightened market competition, enable more innovation and encourage lower prices. For example, increasing opportunities for new airlines to obtain slots in the UK’s busiest airports will encourage greater competition and drive productivity between airlines.

With this could come more affordable flights and seamless journeys as airlines strive to offer better deals and prices than their competitors - benefiting millions of passengers who travel through the UK’s airports.

Airports will also see their slots being used more effectively as airlines will be required to use them instead of store or lease them – increasing the number of flights and making journeys smoother.

Aviation Minister, Anthony Browne, said: "For decades the UK aviation industry was subject to European rules that didn’t have the UK’s interest at heart, but as it goes from strength to strength following the pandemic, it needs a system that will empower it – not constrain it.

"This consultation will bring the sector to the forefront of decision-making, helping to end monopolies within the slot regime, drive healthy competition between airlines and make the aviation sector more dynamic for the future while also benefitting millions of passengers."

Karen Dee, Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association, said: "Slots reform is an opportunity to improve the efficiency of the UK aviation system and this consultation is a welcome step in that direction. We will be working constructively with government to ensure airports’ views are taken on board as these plans develop."

Through collaboration between the government and industry partners, these reforms aim to ensure airport capacity is used to its fullest to reduce delays and optimise flight schedules, while also delivering the DfT’s Flightpath to the Future vision for a modern and innovate aviation sector.

This consultation forms part of a government-wide set of pro-competition measures to boost the economy, attract investment and create dynamic industries that work best for the UK’s interests.