Flights operate with low numbers of passengers for ‘a range of reasons’, says minister
Wednesday 23 February 2022 13:45, UK
Airlines have operated thousands of so-called ghost flights from UK airports during the coronavirus pandemic, new figures show.
The international flights, which had no more than 10% of their seats filled, departed from 32 airports between March 2020 and September 2021.
Heathrow had the most with 4,910 flights, followed by Manchester and Gatwick.
A total of 14,472 empty or nearly empty flights were recorded over the 19-month period, at an average of 25 every day.
The figures include flights which were operated mainly to transport cargo or repatriate Britons stranded overseas.
Airlines traditionally run these flights when they need to hit the 80% threshold for using take-off and landing slots at congested airports – to retain the right to use them during the following year.
However, this has led to concern about the environmental impact of the flights.
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Aviation minister Robert Courts said: “Departing flights may operate with a low number of passengers for a range of reasons.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, the government has provided alleviation from the normal slot regulations that require airlines to operate 80% of their slots in order to retain them for the following season.
“This means that airlines have not been required to operate empty or almost empty flights solely to retain their historic slots rights.”
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said flights with low passenger numbers were often used to transport cargo.
He added: “If you were flying PPE from China or UK exports into the US while those markets were closed (to leisure travel), you would fly them on a passenger plane and you might only have a couple of passengers on board.”
“Given how tight finances are, nobody is flying a plane unless it is economically viable. This is actually about keeping the UK supply chain going while borders are closed for passengers.”
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both insisted they have not operated “ghost flights” to retain slots during the pandemic.
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