COVID-19: MEPs extend relief measures for the transport sector

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you in association with the European Parliament.


To support the transport sector during the pandemic, MEPs revamped rules for the use of airport slots to prevent ghost flights, and extended the validity of some licences.

Parliament temporarily suspended the ‘use it or lose it’ rule in March 2020 to stop airlines from operating empty flights during the pandemic (ghost flights) only so that they could keep their planned take-off and landing slots in the next season. This exemption ends on 27 March 2021.

To give more clarity on how slots will be used in the future, as the latest Eurocontrol forecast indicates that air traffic is expected to be around half of the level of last year, Parliament set out a plan on how to return to a normal application of the ‘use it or lose it’ rule.

Now that the slot utilisation rules have been updated (approved today with 683 votes in favour, 3 against, 4 abstentions), airlines only have to use 50% of their planned take-off and landing slots for the 2021 summer season (instead of the 80% required before the pandemic) in order to keep them in the following season. In addition, the European Commission can also extend the new rules to other seasons in the future, and adjust the minimum utilisation rate to between 30% and 70%. This will enable it to swiftly react to changing air traffic levels during the pandemic.

“In record time, we managed to update complex, but extremely strategic rules for the air sector, which has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. We struck a careful balance between injecting some competition into the airport slots market and the need to protect a sector that is in pain”, said EP rapporteur Dominique Riquet (Renew, FR).

Validity of certificates

With 647 votes in favour, 24 against, 19 abstentions, Parliament also prolonged the rules regarding the validity of certain certificates, licences, periodic checks and training that are normally required in the transport sector under 15 different EU rules.

Given the strict sanitary requirements currently in place, it remains difficult to renew a driving licence, test a car’s roadworthiness or review port security. The new rules allow these documents to remain valid for a further ten months if they expired between 1 September 2020 and 30 June 2021. EU governments can opt out from these derogations. However, to ensure the smooth functioning of the single market, they have to accept prolonged certificates from other member states.

Next steps

Parliament and Council consulted each other informally before the vote. Now that MEPs have given their green light, Council has to approve the rules, so they can enter into force after publication in the Official Journal of the EU.

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