Written by Joao Pita, Chairman of the Worldwide Airport Slot Board, Head of Airline Business, GRU Airport
Since 1974, the Worldwide Slot Guidelines served as the standard for airport slot allocation policy. This was an IATA publication with subsequent participation of slot coordinators.
Airport operators were not involved in this process from the outset as it was thought at that time that airport capacity would continue to grow “with no limits”.
This did not happen.
The issue of airport slots has become more and more important as pressure to utilize the most congested airports in the world continues to rise. It was only logical that airport operators requested a say in how slots, made available by airports’ investment in their infrastructure, should be allocated.
In 2016 at the ICAO Assembly, Airports Council International (ACI), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and the Worldwide Airport Coordinators Group (WWACG) (representing slot coordinators) agreed to jointly conduct a Strategic Review of the slot guidelines.
The three-year process involved four specialized task forces, dozens of meetings, hundreds of people and thousands of hours of work. The result can be seen in the first edition of the Worldwide Airport Slot Guidelines (WASG), effective since June 1 2020 and published jointly by ACI World, IATA and WWACG.
The Strategic Review resulted in significant achievements. Slots are a core component of the airline and airport daily business. For the most congested airports, a good use of slots is the difference between growing or not.
The slot allocation process should be a balanced blend between the needs of the incumbent carriers and the willingness of new entrant airlines. Incumbent carriers provide connectivity with their established hubs; new entrant carriers promote much-needed competition to stimulate demand and increase competition and consumer choice.
A new governance of the WASG was also established as part of the new framework developed by the three stakeholders. The Worldwide Airport Slot Board (WASB) is the responsible body for approval of the changes on the WASG. Airport operators, airlines and slot coordinators all have the same number of seats.
The Strategic Review outcome, the new governance, and the publication of the first edition of the WASG show that collaboration and exchanging of points of views between stakeholders are of paramount importance.
The industry is facing its greatest challenge ever. The time is now right for global vision and strategic thinking.
As stakeholders in the airport slot allocation policy process, airport operators gained a voice and, in parallel, earned greater responsibilities. We ought to protect the best use of airport capacity and convey how complex keeping an airport operating is and why the most efficient allocation and use of airport slots matter.
Furthermore, airports, under the guidance of its ACI World Expert Group on Slots, have put forward a set of topics for future discussion aiming to further improve the WASG.
Aviation has undergone significant changes over the last four decades – the rise of the low-cost model, more airport and airline privatizations, greater market liberalization, new open skies agreements, and optimized network and revenue management tools – and the slot allocation process would likely gain if it is also part of this movement of change.
Initially, priority topics for future discussion that have been already identified are:
Despite the COVID-19 crisis and its devastating impact on aviation, the topics for future discussions remain of prime importance as they need to be addressed to support the recovery of the industry.
The Worldwide Airport Slot Board was not, primarily, built to give emergency solutions for a crisis like the COVID-19. It was rather set up to discuss strategic reforms of the WASG.
Times have changed and the industry requires leadership, guidance, and commitment: the Slot Board is the best place to do it for topics related to airport slot allocation.
João Pita is Head of Airline Business at GRU Airport – São Paulo International Airport. Over the last six years, Pita has held several positions at GRU Airport, where the biggest challenge is to continuously growth the business in a dynamic market, with the ultimate goal of making São Paulo International Airport one of the global hubs. Pita also serves as the Latin America representative to the ACI Expert Group on Slots.