EU and Lufthansa at odds: the “ghost flight” dispute

As of: 01/13/2022 6:41 p.m

Is the EU Commission harming the climate with its regulations? That’s what Lufthansa claims. In order to keep take-off and landing rights, you have to carry out empty flights.

By Notker Blechner,

It is a bizarre climate protection dispute that Lufthansa and the EU Commission are currently fighting. The crane airline accuses Brussels of using bureaucratic slot regulations to force airlines to carry out empty or “ghost flights” that are harmful to the environment. A spokesman complained that 100 unnecessary, hardly manned Lufthansa flights were being operated every day in order to retain the important take-off and landing rights.

Would you rather fly empty than not at all?

The background to this is the slot rules that have changed due to Corona: Since March last year, the airlines have only had to use 50 percent of their slots, otherwise they risk losing take-off and landing rights. Before the pandemic, the required rate was 80 percent.

Several airlines consider these requirements to be unrealistic. The Dutch KLM, which belongs to the French Air France, complains that they are faced with the dilemma of either flying with half-empty planes or losing their slots due to cancellations.

18,000 unnecessary Lufthansa flights by the end of March

Above all, Lufthansa railed against Brussels. Because of the 50 percent quota, 18,000 unnecessary flights would have to be made in the winter flight schedule by the end of March, complained Lufthansa boss Carsten Spohr in an interview shortly before the end of the year. In doing so, the EU would damage the climate and contradict the climate protection goals it has set for itself by 2030. The leading German airline advocates flexible and unbureaucratic exceptions for the rest of the winter flight schedule. The EU Commission should work for a uniform regulation in order to avoid unnecessary flights and to enable the airlines to plan better.

Lufthansa even gets support from climate protection activist Greta Thunberg. “The EU is in a climate emergency mode,” the young Swede recently tweeted. She criticized thousands of unnecessary empty flights by Brussels Airlines, which belongs to Lufthansa.

Brussels rejects allegations

The EU Commission firmly rejects the allegations by Thunberg and Lufthansa. The European rules are definitely not to blame for the current empty flights, a spokesman for the Commission emphasized today. It is still a commercial decision of every airline whether to operate a flight or not. By reducing the slot quota from 84 to 50 percent in the corona pandemic, Brussels is avoiding empty or almost empty flights.

In addition, Lufthansa also benefits from numerous exceptions that were initiated by the German slot coordinator, it was said from Brussels. In addition, no airline has so far provided evidence of alleged “ghost flights”.

France’s Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari interpreted Lufthansa’s statements as pure negotiation tactics. “We will make sure that no European airline is forced to empty flights,” he said.

Ryanair: “Lufthansa is crying crocodile tears”

Low-cost airlines like Ryanair also criticize Lufthansa – and even make fun of the Germans. “Lufthansa is crying crocodile tears for the environment, but is willing to do anything to keep its time slots,” said Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary yesterday. The best solution would be: “Sell cheap tickets,” Ryanair asked Lufthansa on Twitter.

The EU Commission should ignore Lufthansa’s “false claims” about the need for empty ghost flights, the low-cost airline said. Instead, the EU should force Lufthansa and other state-subsidized airlines to release slots that they do not want to use. “Ghostbusters” such as Ryanair and other airlines could then offer these flights at lower ticket prices.

In fact, from 2020 Lufthansa should give up some slots at the German airports in Munich and Frankfurt. That was a requirement of the EU for the approval of the federal government’s rescue package. But apparently there were no interested parties for the take-off and landing rights. Of course, this was also due to the fact that only new competitors were allowed to register: Ryanair, Easyjet & Co. were therefore excluded.

Expert: Lufthansa could combine flights

Industry experts consider the “slot dispute” between Lufthansa and Brussels to be exaggerated. Aviation expert Cord Schellenberg would be surprised if the German airline actually carried out 18,000 empty flights by the end of March as threatened. “Lufthansa could combine flights on the coveted slots,” he says In addition, it could also offer certain routes economically with smaller planes.

Schellenberg considers a reduction in the rate of 50 percent in the winter timetable to be relatively illusory. However, he pointed out that if a country is declared a high-risk area because of Corona, the quota will no longer apply anyway. This is currently the case in parts of the EU.

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