Why are airlines flying ‘ghost flights’?

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The drop in airline bookings and disruptions caused due to the Omicron variant is forcing many airlines to fly near-empty flights.

  • Ghost flights are flights that are completely empty or have an absolute minimum number of passengers. These have been on the rise since the pandemic has disrupted travel regulations.
  • A Greenpeace report notes that close to 100,000 ghost flights could be flown across Europe this winter. This could generate up to 2.1 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • According to EU Commission rules, airlines have to ensure they fly to all their destinations a certain number of times - irrespective of the passenger status - to keep their slots.
  • Known as the ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ rule, to ensure fair competition, the EU had mandated airlines to use 80% of its slots to ensure that it can operate 100% in the following season.
  • Before the pandemic hit, this number was 80% but has since been adjusted to 25% and 50% following the drop in airline bookings. It’s expected to go up to 64% from March.
  • Big carriers such as Lufthansa have said there needs to be a further exemption following the Omircon-related disruptions, else it would be forced to fly 18,000 empty flights.
  • Budget airline Ryanair’s CEO, Michael O’Leary has called out Lufthansa’s claims as anti-competitive, noting that Lufthansa is exploiting climate concerns to keep away competitors.
  • Meanwhile in the US, certain airlines that have received aid under the CARES Act are mandated to fly to all the domestic regions they operate in, to ensure citizens aren’t inconvenienced.
  • Using flights, when travelling by less carbon-intensive means is possible, is anyway under a scanner. Flying empty flights to keep up with a quota seems like overkill.
  • In this reading, we take a look at why airlines need to fill up a certain quota of flights, why ghost flights are damaging and if there is any silver bullet to help the aviation industry recover?
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5 articles on this topic


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