Virgin Atlantic is flying “almost empty” aircraft to ensure it retains its “valuable” airport take-off and landing slots amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Chief executive Shai Weiss made the admission as carriers across the world continue to strip back their flight programmes owing to a “dramatic fall” in demand as the virus spreads, and as countries and governments adjust their respective travel restrictions.
Iata has urged the world’s aviation regulators not to penalise airlines by taking back their slots under the so-called “use it or lose it” rule if they suspend flights owing to the coronavirus.
Carriers risk losing their slots if they do not operate 80% of scheduled flights under normal circumstances, and have previously operated “ghost flights” to circumvent the issue.
Virgin confirmed to TTG that while it hasn’t yet been forced to fly any empty aircraft, load factors were dropping.
“Passenger demand for air travel has dramatically fallen due to Covid-19 and in some instances we are being forced to fly almost empty planes or lose our valuable slots,” said Weiss.
“In the aftermath of 9/11 and following the outbreak of Sars, slot rules were quickly relaxed. Yet today, where the demand impact is greater, we only see short-term alleviation on slots used to fly to China and Hong Kong.
“Given the almost unprecedented impact on global passenger demand, the UK slot co-ordinator and the European Commission need to now urgently relax the rules for the whole summer. Common sense must prevail.”