U.S. proposes to waive minimum flight requirements for airlines until March 2021

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday it favors the extension of temporary waivers of minimum flight requirements at some U.S. airports through late March 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: Several canceled flights are pictured on a monitor at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as airlines are reeling from a plunge in bookings and traffic, as the fast-spreading coronavirus pandemic prompts travel restrictions and event cancellations around the world, in SeaTac, Washington, U.S. March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Redmond

Airlines can lose their slots at congested airports if they do not use them at least 80% of the time. The FAA said it proposed extending temporary waivers of the requirements at New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport that were set to expire in October.

At four other U.S. airports where the FAA has a formal schedule-review process - Chicago O’Hare, Newark, Los Angeles and San Francisco - the agency proposes to extend credits to airlines for flights that were canceled due to the coronavirus as though those flights were operated.

The FAA said it planned to impose some conditions on the waivers and that slots that are not operated for extended periods should be made available to other airlines on a temporary basis.

American Airlines Inc AAL.O, Delta Air Lines DAL.N, Inc JetBlue Airways Corp JBLU.O and United Airlines UAL.O last week urged the administration to extend relief.

Major airline groups cited “historically low levels of bookings, with overall bookings down 82% year-on-year for 2020 compared to the outlook for 2019; consumer demand that continues to fall... and the need for schedule flexibility to support sustainable loads,” the FAA said.

Spirit Airlines SAVE.N opposed extension of the waivers, arguing that "public policy should be directed toward enabling the free market to reallocate the use of these slots/authorizations – a public resource – such that passengers receive greater choice among offerings in these key markets.”

The FAA said its proposal “reflects a delicate balancing of the competing interests of carriers interested in conducting ad hoc operations... against the interests of incumbent carriers seeking maximum flexibility in making scheduling and

operational decisions in an uncertain environment with ongoing COVID-19-related impacts.”

Delta told the FAA it projected operating 50%-60% of its slot portfolio in New York and Washington airports in November.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler