Airlines flying almost empty ‘ghost flights’ to keep EU airport slots | Aviation Emissions

According to an analysis by Greenpeace, at least 100,000 “ghost flights” could be flown across Europe this winter due to EU rules on the use of slots.

The abandoned, unnecessary or unprofitable flights are intended to allow airlines to keep their runway rights at major airports, but they can also generate up to 2.1 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions – or as much as 1.4 million average gasoline. – whether to emit diesel cars in a year – says Greenpeace.

“The European Commission requiring airlines to fly empty planes to meet any quota is not only polluting, but also extremely hypocritical given their climate rhetoric,” said Herwig Schuster, a spokesperson for Greenpeace’s European Mobility for All campaign.

“Transport emissions are rising enormously,” he says. “It would be irresponsible for the EU not to use the low-hanging fruit to end ghost flights and ban short-haul flights with a reasonable train connection.”

When the Covid pandemic began, the European Commission lowered the flight operations benchmark that airlines must meet to keep their slots open from 80% to 25%.

But last December, Brussels raised the benchmark to 50%, before rising again to 64% in March.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said his airline may need to fly 18,000 “extra, unnecessary flights” to comply with the revised rules, and called for the kind of “climate-friendly exemptions” used in other parts of the world.

A Lufthansa spokesperson said only 45% of flights were full between January and March 2021.

The remaining 5%, or 18,000 flights, “we define as unnecessary,” the spokesperson added. “If we didn’t risk losing slots at certain airports in Europe, we would probably have canceled them and merged them with other existing flights.”

Greenpeace applied Lufthansa’s share of ghost flights to other European airlines based on the German airline’s 17% market share, with a conservative estimate of 20 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per flight.

The study assumed an average flight time of 90 minutes for a 200-seat aircraft over a distance of 800-1,000 km.

Tim Johnson, director of the Aviation Environment Federation, said Greenpeace’s assumptions were “impeccable”.

“It looks like an example of waste in the industry and I think people will be surprised by the magnitude of it,” he said. “It points to a real problem of airlines being forced to run empty flights or flights with very low occupancy in order to keep their slots.”

Socialist MEPs in the European Parliament have demanded answers to the problem, and Greta Thunberg, the leader of the climate strike, sardonicly tweeted that “the EU is definitely in climate emergency mode”.

The European Commission denies that airlines operate ghost flights or that the “use it or lose it” slot rules have caused any problems.

A spokesperson for the commission said: “Empty flights are bad for the economy and the environment and that is exactly why we have taken several measures to prevent companies from having such empty flights. If airlines decide to hold empty flights, it is a business decision, not the result of EU rules.”

Brussels says it has already lowered slot requirements and airlines can request that even those be halted if flights are disrupted by “severe sanitation measures” such as new government travel restrictions.

Earlier this month, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary complained that major airlines were taking advantage of generous EU breaks, “and now Lufthansa is still not happy. They don’t want to run ghost flights because, “Ohhh, the environment,” he told Politico.

The low-cost Irish airline wants Lufthansa to sell unsold tickets at cheap prices and for the commission to force it to release unused slots.

Air France says it wants more flexibility in slot rules, but a spokesman said it would not provide data on the number of under-capacity and unnecessary flights it was currently flying.

Johnson said it was right to focus on climate impacts when huge amounts of CO2 were expelled unnecessarily, but that there was a “wider industrial battle” pointing to the need for slot reform.

“We need something that really rewards efficiency,” he said. “A sort of efficiency measure as a basis for allocating slots that would allow an operator with a modern full aircraft to be preferred over competing airlines, which operate with much lower load factors or older technologies.”

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