Lufthansa Group Admits To Flying 18,000 Empty Planes To Keep Airport Slots

Photo: Alexander Hassenstein (Getty Images)

Lufthansa Group, one of Europe’s largest aviation companies, has confirmed that it flew 18,000 empty flights just to keep its take-off and landing rights at major airport, Belgian news site The Bulletin reports.

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The European Union maintains a “use it or lose it” attitude toward flight scheduling. Basically, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, any one air carrier was required to use at least 80 percent of its scheduled take-off and landing slots at major airports in order to maintain the right to keep flying into and out of that airport.

During the pandemic, that 80 percent number was revised to 50 percent — but it’s still been difficult for many airlines to meet even that number, since folks just weren’t keen on the whole “travel” thing.

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But as it turns out, that number was still Too Damn High. Few people were flying, and the Lufthansa Group faced losing the rights to use certain airports if it didn’t do something. That “something” turned out to be operating 18,000 empty or near-empty flights, since there were no requirements on the number of people that had to be transported during those scheduled slots.

It doesn’t take a scientist to understand that that’s not exactly ideal for the environment. On average, a plane emits 53 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile of flight. We don’t have word on the length of those empty flights, but to put it pretty simply: A whole lot of resources were wasted just to keep up with outdated regulations that weren’t adequately revised in the face of a pandemic.

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According to The Bulletin, Belgium’s federal mobility minister Georges Gilkinet has written to the European commissioner for transport, Adina Valean, to demand changes to the regulations.

In the Before Times, the regulations made some sense, since it prevented airlines from cancelling tons of flights on a whim. If they did so, they faced repercussions and forfeited their flight slot.

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Obviously, that’s not taking into account a situation where large swaths of people may be unwilling or unable to fly — you know, like a pandemic. Lufthansa has already cancelled 33,000 flights between now and the end of March due to the Omicron variant, which could very well be the absolute maximum number of flights the air carrier is willing to cancel.

Whatever the case, the rules make absolutely no sense, and it’s coming at the cost of the environment.

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