Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), the world’s busiest cargo airport, is further extending its slot-use rule waiver until March 2023 after already implementing several extensions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the latest set to lapse by end of October 2022.
The Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department (CAD) said it will continue to allow airlines flying to and from the financial hub to keep their airport slots until March 25, 2023, even if carriers continue to cut capacity, for now, as the aviation sector works to fully recover from the pandemic.
While most of the world started to ease pandemic-related restrictions earlier this year, some of the last major Asian holdouts — including Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, but not mainland China – have announced that they are easing almost all Covid-related restrictions in what is widely seen as a boost to both passenger and air cargo operations, especially in Hong Kong.
CAD told Asia Cargo News that it is extending the waiver it earlier implemented governing the use of airport slots through the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s Winter 2022 season and will continue to adjust the guidelines depending on the pandemic situation.
The Hong Kong Schedule Coordination Office (HKSCO), under the CAD, performs the schedule coordinator function for the HKIA and the city’s aviation regulator said the HKSCO adopts and maintains a “neutral, transparent and non-discriminatory slot allocation mechanism in accordance with the Worldwide Airport Slot Guidelines (WASG) and applicable local guidelines.”
It added that this is to ensure the efficient utilization of existing airport infrastructure and meet the demand as far as possible.
“The HKSCO has also been closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on slot usage of airline operators at the HKIA,” CAD said in a statement. “In consideration of the latest Covid-19 situation and to facilitate planning by airline operators, the HKSCO has informed airline operators at HKIA that the waiver on the ‘Use-it-or-lose-it’ slot usage requirement will continue to be applied at HKIA for the Winter 2022 IATA season,” the Hong Kong aviation regulator added.
The IATA Winter season is from October 30, 2022, to March 25, 2023.
The World Airlines and Suppliers Guide (WASG)’s “use-it-or-lose-it rule” stipulates that “historic precedence” is only granted for a series of slots if the airline operator can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the coordinator that the series was operated at least 80% of the time during the period allocated in the previous equivalent airline season.
Hong Kong earlier extended the same slot-use rule waiver in the IATA Summer season 2022 from March 27, 2022, to October 29, 2022, citing the continued impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the aviation industry.
The Hong Kong aviation regulator first waived the slot-use rule for the Winter 2020 season and for both the Winter 2019 season (October 27, 2019, to March 28, 2020) as weak demand gripped the airport.
It has since been extended as the Covid-19 pandemic put the majority of airline operations at a standstill.
Meanwhile, unlike Hong Kong, some countries have begun reinstating the 80-20 use-it or lose-it rule or variations of it from the Winter 2022 season, but the International Air Transport Association (IATA) called the return to pre-pandemic slot use rules “premature” and warned that this risks continuing disruptions.
“We believe that going into the winter, we’re still not back to where the industry was,” Willie Walsh, IATA's director general told a press briefing.
“When you consider that international travel is at about 68% off where we were in 2019, overall we’re at 75% – so the idea that we return to the normal 80-20 slot rules is, I think, premature,” Walsh added, referring to the rate of recovery in the travel industry.
The IATA chief said there continue to be discussions with slot regulators and authorities. “Hopefully, we will see a sensible approach to this,” Walsh said.
In Hong Kong, aside from extending the slot-use rule waiver, the major air cargo and transhipment gateway also announced the extension of its relief package for the airport community for another two months to the end of November after already implementing several extensions to its support scheme for the aviation industry with the latest supposed to end in September.
Airport Authority Hong Kong said various fee waiver or concession policies supporting the industry will continue from October to November 2022, including full waiver of parking charges for idle passenger aircraft and air bridge fees; reduction of passenger aircraft landing charges; and fee reduction related to ramp handling, maintenance and airside vehicles, among others.
By Charlee C. Delavin
Asia Cargo News | Hong Kong