Airport Operators: A Driving Force in the Allocation of Slots

Franco Lucas Sartor by Franco Lucas Sartor | Nov 9, 2021

The gradual reopening of borders brings a renewed optimism that air travel will see an uptick in 2022, moving the industry closer to its recovery. The latest ACI data projects that global passenger traffic in 2022 will reach 6.6 billion, up from 4.6 billion in 2021.

Despite such an uptick, the most constrained airports are already effectively saturated and slots at these airports are scarce: about 200 airports worldwide are subject to strict slot allocation processes.

How are airport slots allocated to airlines?

The global slot allocation process is based on the administrative allocation of slots according to priority criteria defined in the Worldwide Airport Slot Guidelines (WASG). Slots are allocated based on primary criteria for initial slot allocation: airlines which operate at least 80% of their allocated slots can retain their right to use them in the next equivalent season. When slots cannot be allocated using the primary criteria, the coordinator can use additional allocation criteria which include several factors (WASG 8.2 to 8.4 refers).

Airport operators should be a driving force in the definition of allocation priorities

In recognition of the vested interest of airport operators in growing traffic, enhancing competition, increasing connectivity, and optimizing the use of their infrastructure, the ACI World Airport Slot Policy Forums gave full consideration to the topic of allocation priorities.

The Airport Slot Policy Forums were organized in the first half of 2021 to hear the global airport community assessments of current situation and formulate truly global airport slot policies, responsive to the needs of the travelling public and of our industry. Over 160 representatives from 83 airports and organizations participated in the three Forums organized in the Americas, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific, and Europe and Africa.

ACI World Airport Slot Policy Forums Proceedings, 2021
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At the Forums, the airport community reiterated its commitment to ensure the responsiveness of the allocation process to consumers’ needs and enhance the role of airports in shaping the slot allocation priorities to airports’ strategic development goals and local circumstances. The following policy was adopted:

Slot allocation priorities and criteria should reflect the consumer-focused objectives that were incorporated in the first edition of the WASG. Airport operators should be a driving force in the definition of allocation priorities.

The industry already recognizes the key role airport operators should play

From 2016 to 2019, ACI, IATA, Worldwide Airport Coordinators Group (WWACG), and their respective members jointly conducted a focused Strategic Review of the slot guidelines for the first time, which delivered changes and enhancements to the slot process. Notably, these changes focused on the allocation of airport slots and recognized the key role that airport operators should play.

First, allocation criteria were developed and refined, aligning the allocation of slots with the airport strategic development plans and interests (WASG 8.4.1 refers):

  • A connectivity criterion provides that coordinators should ensure that due account is taken of the development of the specific airport route network and connectivity to meet the needs of passengers and shippers.
  • A competition criterion provides that coordinators should ensure that due account is taken of competitive factors in the allocation of available slots, notably the addition and development of a new route or competition on an existing route.
  • A type of consumer service and market provides that coordinators should balance different types of services and markets (domestic, regional, and long-haul international, and leisure or business).

Second, the WASG further entrenches the key role that airport operators should play. The guidelines state that airport operators should provide relevant information to the coordinator in order to assist in applying the additional criteria for slot allocation, relating to the type of service and market, competition, and requirements of the travelling public and other users (WASG 5.4.3).

Building on the changes from the Strategic Review, the airport community is committed to continuously develop and improve the current slot allocation system to better benefit the travelling public and the communities airports serve.

The way forward: an open and transparent process

The allocation of airport slots in an open and transparent manner is the backbone of slot policies. Airport operators, travellers, and other industry stakeholders must have full confidence that the administrative allocation of slots responds to consumers’ needs and takes into account the interests of airports, notably as regards to enhancing connectivity and competition. As such, airports are indispensable in defining allocation priorities.

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Franco Lucas Sartor

Franco Lucas Sartor

Manager, Airport Slots and Capacity Policy, ACI World
Franco is specialized in aviation, airport, and space law. He joined ACI World in 2021 and his role focuses on developing ACI’s policies on airport slots and capacity. He is also supporting strategic and technical work on the Worldwide Airport Slot Guidelines (WASG). Prior to joining ACI, Franco worked at the Argentine Civil Aviation Authority and at a law firm dedicated to aviation law.
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