The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has decided to extend its slot waivers for major US airports through October 30th, 2021. This will mostly impact two slot-controlled New York-area airports and Washington D.C.’s National Airport.

FAA extends slot waivers

The US FAA has determined the ongoing crisis warrants an extension of the waiver of minimum slot usage requirements at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), LaGuardia Airport (LGA), and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), which is currently in effect through March 27th, 2021.

The relief also extends to other airports designated by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as “Level 2” airports. These include Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

The relief is now available through the whole summer 2021 scheduling season and is generally subject to the same conditions currently in effect at airports through March 27th.

The FAA slot waivers

At JFK and LGA, traditionally, slots must be used 80% of the time, or else the airline that holds the slot will lose it. At DCA, any slot not used at least 80% of the time over a two-month period will be recalled by the FAA. Though supported by most major airlines and some industry groups, the slot waivers were vehemently opposed by some airlines like Southwest, Spirit, and Allegiant– all of which are carriers that could benefit from increased access to slots recalled by authorities.

In making its decision, the FAA noted that the ongoing pandemic has continued to keep passenger levels at a historic low. In addition, no one has a crystal ball to tell exactly when travel demand will come back and when carriers will go back to full utilization of their slots.

The FAA clearly stated that airlines should not assume further relief will come beyond the Summer 2021 season, the agency also made the same comments when it granted relief for the spring 2021 season.

Why airlines like slot waivers

If you are Delta or JetBlue or American and have a solid position staked out at New York-JFK or LaGuardia, then this is very extensive relief. While demand is coming back slowly, coastal hubs and New York continue to see weakened demand. New York, in particular, has some strict travel restrictions in place.

Given this, these airlines are not planning to fly their full breadth of schedules. Even if they show up for sale, airlines are constantly tweaking their schedules, and if the demand is not there, the flight probably will not run.

Airlines would have to choose between losing the slots or running flights that will not make money without slot relief. The latter could mean airlines flying 50-seater jets into some of the most expensive airport square footage in the world, which is something no airline wants to do. American Airlines is hoping to end 50-seater operations out of New York City this year.

Why some airlines do not like slot waivers

If you consider airlines trying to get into these markets, like Spirit or Southwest, and who want to add new routes or more flights, these new entrant carriers will not be pleased by the relief.

From the point of view of these airlines, if carriers do not plan to run flights and use their slots, then airlines that want to fly should be allowed to get into the airport.

In addition, most of these new entrant carriers would likely be flying bigger aircraft than the entrenched carriers would be flying when trying to preserve the slots. For example, where an entrenched airline may fly a CRJ or ERJ from JFK or LGA to Nashville, Southwest or Spirit would be flying, at minimum, a Boeing 737-700 or Airbus A319, which could have almost double the capacity of a regional jet.

There may be some reprieve for these new entrant carriers in the future if the FAA adds more limits on future waivers. But, for now, until October, there will be fewer opportunities for these carriers to get into these airports.

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