Ghost tours pollute the sky thanks to Omicron

The rows of empty plane seats on the 2020 plane. The seats are gray with white headrests.

An empty Swiss Air flight from Munich, Germany to Zurich, Switzerland in March 2020.
Photo: Sven Kreutzman / Mambo Photos (Getty Images)

Few industries have been affected more by the COVID-19 pandemic than air travel; With so few people traveling for business or pleasure, airlines have resorted to “stealth flights” to secure their take-off and landing slots at airports.

Such flights – empty of passengers but still burning fuel on their dummy flights – have become familiar term In the early days of the pandemic, but it has been up in the air since Covid-19 swept the world two years ago. Ghost flights are a point of contention in Europe this week, with airlines complaining they will have to fly more of them as air travel declines again.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper on Sunday The company was canceling more flights than expected this winter as a result of… high omicron . variant in Europe. And it would eliminate even more if not for the way airports allocate gates.

“Because of the reduced demand in January, we would have canceled significantly more flights. But in the winter, we will have to carry out 18,000 additional non-essential flights, just to secure our take-off and landing rights,” he said, adding that flights in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Belgium were particularly affected. .

Lufthansa wasn’t the only airline to say it will be flying more ghost planes in the coming months. “Between now and March, we have to carry out 3,000 flights, primarily within Europe,” said Mike Andres, a spokesman for Brussels Airlines, He told the Brussels Times. “We would prefer it to be scrapped, and it should also be avoided for the sake of the environment.”

Empty seats of a Lufthansa Airbus A340.

Empty seats of a Lufthansa Airbus A340.
Photo: Daniel Rowland/AFP (Getty Images)

But Andres added that when the number of flights falls below the minimum required to retain take-off and landing rights, this is a problem, because “these slots are essential for an airline”. And there’s a problem: Airlines are betting on a market recovery and don’t want to lag behind their competitors. They are willing to burn fuel in the short term, even if it has catastrophic effects on the climate.

The airports’ trade authority, Airports Council International (ACI), has contested the European airlines’ claims, and confirmed the European Commission’s position on airport slot thresholds (airlines must currently operate 50% of time slots or risk losing them, rather than the pre-pandemic 80% standard). ). threshold was 80% Suspended in March 2020The 50% threshold is set to expire at the end of March 2022, although the expiration may be pushed back to the end of summer 2022, the Brussels Times reports. mentioned.

Some airlines claim that they are forced to operate large volumes of empty flights in order to retain rights to use the airport slots. “There is absolutely no reason why this should be a reality,” Olivier Jankovic, Director General of ACI EUROPE, said in a press release. The talk about ghost flights and their environmental effects seems to point to a doomsday scenario that has no place in reality. Let us stick to the vital task of recovering and rebuilding together.”

After declaring the 50% threshold, IATA Director General describe it The decision as “far from reality”. The association, which represents nearly 300 airlines that make up 82% of global air traffic, estimated that international travel would be about 34% of 2019 levels by the end of 2021 — and that was when the omicron variant was just a blink in the eye of the pandemic.

It’s not just an economic headache, but an environmental embarrassment. Air travel is also incredibly harmful to the climate, and it’s responsible Approximately 2.4% of global carbon pollution before the epidemic. You could argue that flights full of people had at least a purpose to transport people to and from a location, but ghost flights provide openings at airports for some unexpected future..

This week marks two years since the start of the World Health Organization mentioned A group of pneumonia cases that will be designated as covid-19. And we’re still flying empty planes, keeping seats warm for industries that won’t fully return until the pandemic is truly over.

More: I made peace with flying less

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