FAA Ends Airline Slot Waiver Program: Implications?

FAA Ends Airline Slot Waiver Program: Implications?

15

For well over two years now, slot requirements have been waived at congested airports in the United States. That has finally changed, and it potentially has some significant implications for airlines.

Some US airports are slot restricted

For context, many congested airports around the globe are slot restricted, which means that airlines need slots in order to operate flights to & from them. Sometimes these slots are awarded on a merit basis, while other times they can be purchased and sold.

The catch is that most slots come with a “use it or lose it clause.” That’s to say that if airlines don’t use their slots at least a certain percentage of the time (typically 80%) then they can lose the slots. This is intended to avoid squat slotting, and the underutilization of airport resources.

Here in the United States, the following airports are fully slot controlled:

  • New York Kennedy (JFK)
  • New York LaGuardia (LGA)
  • Washington National (DCA)

Meanwhile the following airports have IATA Level 2 status, meaning there are restrictions on runway usage and more:

  • Chicago (ORD)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Newark (EWR)
  • San Francisco (SFO)

Since March 2020, the US has been waiving slot requirements due to the pandemic. In other words, the government didn’t want to force airlines to fly empty planes simply to keep their slots. That was logical enough, given all the travel restrictions in place, and how much travel demand had cratered.

The FAA has been waiving slot requirements

FAA once again requiring airlines to use slots

As of the start of the winter 2022 airline scheduling season (which kicks off October 30, 2022), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is no longer waiving slot requirements for US airports, including for international airlines. This means we’re back to a “use it or lose it” situation, so if airlines don’t use at least 80% of their slots, they’ll be taken away.

Now, this won’t pose any issues at New York LaGuardia or Washington National, with domestic capacity more or less back to where it was pre-pandemic, and limited international traffic. The much bigger question here will be for international airlines at New York Kennedy.

For example:

  • Aeroflot is no longer allowed to fly to the United States, but still has slots at JFK
  • Cathay Pacific is only operating an average of one daily flight to JFK, while pre-pandemic the airline operated at least four daily flights
  • Mainland Chinese airlines are still way down when it comes to capacity at JFK, given the major travel restrictions in place

It goes without saying that either airlines are going to have to ramp up capacity ASAP, or they’re at serious risk of losing their slots. Keep in mind United recently pulled out of JFK, as the airline wasn’t able to get permanent slots at the airport. I’m sure United is rooting for some airlines to lose slots, so the airline can get a permanent presence there.

United is probably happy about slot requirements returning at JFK

Limited slot usage waivers will be granted

Now, there is one catch. While the FAA is resuming slot usage requirements, some exceptions can be granted on a case-by-case basis. As it’s explained by the FAA:

The FAA anticipates there will be a limited number of carrier requests for relief in Winter 2022/2023 based on foreign government-imposed travel restrictions or highly restrictive temporary limitations on flights. The FAA will work closely with OST on any such requests to determine appropriate action based on the circumstances and factors such as reciprocal treatment for U.S. carriers.

It’ll be interesting to see where exactly the line is drawn there:

  • Should Aeroflot’s slots be maintained, as politics aside, the carrier probably has the best excuse for not using its JFK slots (it’s not allowed to fly there!)?
  • Should mainland Chinese airlines be allowed to keep their slots, even though there’s no end in sight for current travel restrictions there, so it seems like a waste of slot resources?
  • Should Cathay Pacific be able to keep its slots? At this point Hong Kong is open to visitors, though with travel restrictions, so I’m curious where that falls on the scale

What’s interesting here is that airlines are taking a big risk. For example, Cathay Pacific only has one daily flight to New York in the schedule, so I imagine the airline will be seeking relief. If it’s granted, great. If it’s not, it’ll be too late for the airline to add sufficient service to maintain its slots.

It seems that exceptions will largely be granted based on reciprocity, for situations where foreign airports have granted waivers to US airports.

What will happen to Cathay Pacific’s slots at JFK?

Bottom line

The FAA is resuming its slot usage requirements for international airlines at US airports, meaning that going forward, airlines have to use at least 80% of their slots at DCA, JFK, and LGA. The biggest implications here are at JFK, as many international airlines still haven’t brought back their pre-pandemic capacity at the airport.

Limited waivers will be granted based on reciprocity, so it’s going to be interesting to see where the FAA draws the line there, ranging from Aeroflot, to Air China, to Cathay Pacific.

What do you make of the FAA bringing back slot usage requirements?

(Tip of the hat to Terence)

Conversations (15)
The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.
Type your response here.

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Anyone can comment, and your email address will not be published. Register to save your unique username and earn special OMAAT reputation perks!

  1. hans Guest

    Due to these slot requirements SWISS (LX) has again started now to fly twice daily ZRH-JFK as it was pre-pandemic. To start this venture (now with again a total of 4 flights from ZRH or GVA to NYC) for the winter schedule is quite challenging, while in summer the remaining 3 flights were always full.

  2. Lune Guest

    I don't think it's such a big deal to grant a waiver. Those slots won't go unused. The FAA would just allow for temporary rights like the ones United had.

    So if Cathay got a waiver for a year, I'm sure someone else would be happy to pick up those slots even if it's temporary.

  3. Brian Gasser Guest

    The DOT is not going to take away Chinese slots. If they did, US carrier would be negatively affected by the chinese govt in retaliation from serving Beijing, Shanghi, HK...

  4. JorgeGeorge Paez Guest

    Slot Squatting sounds better.....

  5. Eric Guest

    Some of Cathay's slots were generally at less ideal times, including late evening departures and early morning arrival / departures.

    Could CX slot squat if forced to? i would love to see CX return to 5th freedom flights. a JFK-YYZ flight - similar to what LATAM used to fly (both as LAN and TAM) would be great. CX should already have authority for this 5th freedom from the JFK-YVR flight.

    Or CX can...

    Some of Cathay's slots were generally at less ideal times, including late evening departures and early morning arrival / departures.

    Could CX slot squat if forced to? i would love to see CX return to 5th freedom flights. a JFK-YYZ flight - similar to what LATAM used to fly (both as LAN and TAM) would be great. CX should already have authority for this 5th freedom from the JFK-YVR flight.

    Or CX can be really aggressive and try a round-the world flight. a JFK-LHR fifth freedom flight would allow CX to operate an route with significant demand while holding slots at two airports. It would compete against it's one world partners, but there were rumors about this route pre-covid, slots were just the issue.

    I could also see CX doing more cargo only flights. Historically passenger flights used anchorage as a refueling point and i'd love to see this again.

  6. Tim Dunn Diamond

    It's not likely that anything will change. Carriers will get exemptions where they cannot generate sufficient revenue to justify flying their slots.
    And at Newark which was slot-controlled during the last downturn (great recession), UA has reduced its covid recovery schedule due to congestion after having those slot controls removed due to failure to use slots due to FAA requirements.

    AA and B6 are still under a slot rehabilitation plan - AKA the Northeast...

    It's not likely that anything will change. Carriers will get exemptions where they cannot generate sufficient revenue to justify flying their slots.
    And at Newark which was slot-controlled during the last downturn (great recession), UA has reduced its covid recovery schedule due to congestion after having those slot controls removed due to failure to use slots due to FAA requirements.

    AA and B6 are still under a slot rehabilitation plan - AKA the Northeast Alliance - that was developed by the DOT in order to get AA's slot usage back to minimum levels which they did not meet even before covid.

    UA left JFK in order to beef up its schedules at EWR and it is doubtful they will gain enough slots at the right times in order to regain entry unless AA fails to use its slots. UA's greatest hope to return to JFK comes from an overturn of the NEA or at least the slot-sharing provisions between AA and B6.

  7. LEo Diamond

    Just curious, can slots be leased? Surely those Chinese carriers would want to lease out their JFK/LAX/SFO slot to other airlines.

    1. Jim Guest

      My assumption is they can be, or at least be "assigned" - after all, look at how many slots Delta/American/United have that are, in fact, Republic/Skywest/Endeavor/Envoy/etc.

    2. Tim Dunn Diamond

      Regional airline slots are held by the major airline which does the scheduling and is the marketing carrier.
      It is different from a change in marketing carriers.

    3. Tim Dunn Diamond

      also, with the exception of AA and its mainline partners AS and B6, the nationality of the operating carrier changes. International slots are governed by treaty while domestic slots are not.

    4. David Guest

      That isn’t exactly correct. U.S. air services agreements never guarantee slots to foreign carriers, they only pledge non-discriminatory treatment when the foreign carrier applies for slots. And they aren’t “treaties,” they are “Executive Agreements.”

  8. JCH Guest

    Slot waivers have already been gone for over a year for domestic flights at these airports. The only thing new is that now the waivers are gone for international flights. In general, they'll grant continued waivers based on reciprocity - so if the other country grants US carriers waivers for flights at those foreign airports, we'll grant them waivers. otherwise, tbd.

  9. BSG Guest

    Should not be giving such countries slot waivers. Their fault for starting a war or pursuing stupid zero Covid policies. Airlines from these countries are extensions of their fascist governments. May they never return.

    1. Jesse Guest

      Wow, you are woefully ignorant. Or drunk. Hopefully just drunk rather than being as obtuse as your comment makes you seem.

  10. Jim Guest

    I suspect that for China (including Hong Kong), reciprocity will (in practice) be the singular deciding factor. We're only talking a total of less than a dozen RTs per day? They'll get a waiver IF the PRC gives US carriers a similar waiver.

    Aeroflot has 2 RTs, and reciprocity isn't relevant: No US carriers have flown to Russia in many years (for economic, rather than political, reasons). In the unlikely event politics favors Aeroflot resuming...

    I suspect that for China (including Hong Kong), reciprocity will (in practice) be the singular deciding factor. We're only talking a total of less than a dozen RTs per day? They'll get a waiver IF the PRC gives US carriers a similar waiver.

    Aeroflot has 2 RTs, and reciprocity isn't relevant: No US carriers have flown to Russia in many years (for economic, rather than political, reasons). In the unlikely event politics favors Aeroflot resuming service, I'm sure they can scrounge up 2 RTs/day.

    But - what about Ukraine Int'l Airlines? They have a slot there. They aren't flying at the moment, but I can't imagine there'd be any political will to cut them off...

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Jim Guest

I suspect that for China (including Hong Kong), reciprocity will (in practice) be the singular deciding factor. We're only talking a total of less than a dozen RTs per day? They'll get a waiver IF the PRC gives US carriers a similar waiver. Aeroflot has 2 RTs, and reciprocity isn't relevant: No US carriers have flown to Russia in many years (for economic, rather than political, reasons). In the unlikely event politics favors Aeroflot resuming service, I'm sure they can scrounge up 2 RTs/day. But - what about Ukraine Int'l Airlines? They have a slot there. They aren't flying at the moment, but I can't imagine there'd be any political will to cut them off...

3
Eric Guest

Some of Cathay's slots were generally at less ideal times, including late evening departures and early morning arrival / departures. Could CX slot squat if forced to? i would love to see CX return to 5th freedom flights. a JFK-YYZ flight - similar to what LATAM used to fly (both as LAN and TAM) would be great. CX should already have authority for this 5th freedom from the JFK-YVR flight. Or CX can be really aggressive and try a round-the world flight. a JFK-LHR fifth freedom flight would allow CX to operate an route with significant demand while holding slots at two airports. It would compete against it's one world partners, but there were rumors about this route pre-covid, slots were just the issue. I could also see CX doing more cargo only flights. Historically passenger flights used anchorage as a refueling point and i'd love to see this again.

2
Brian Gasser Guest

The DOT is not going to take away Chinese slots. If they did, US carrier would be negatively affected by the chinese govt in retaliation from serving Beijing, Shanghi, HK...

1
Meet Ben Schlappig, OMAAT Founder
4,788,713 Miles Traveled

27,627,500 Words Written

32,315 Posts Published

Keep Exploring OMAAT