Air connectivity is a fundamental driving force of the modern global economy, and the freedom to fly empowers millions of people in their daily lives. Total unique city pair connections exceeded 21,000 in 2018, and continue to grow as more cities join the global air transport network. The benefits this brings in terms of employment and economic activity are undeniable: some 65 million jobs and $2.7 trillion in GDP. And air transport directly contributes to 15 of the 17 United Nations sustainable development goals. This growth in demand, however, has created a tremendous challenge in terms of infrastructure. Put simply, more than 200 airports worldwide have insufficient capacity to meet the demand for flights, especially at peak times.
The obvious answer is to expand capacity where possible. But obtaining political approval and the consent of local communities for airport expansion is a challenging and lengthy process. In the meantime, it is imperative that the process for managing capacity is robust and globally harmonized.
Forty years ago, recognizing the imminent challenge of restrictions to airport slots capacity, the Worldwide Slots Guidelines (WSG) were created. The guidelines have been published and administered by IATA and largely implemented by slot coordinators at local level. They are the bedrock of the aviation scheduling system. Over forty years, the WSG have ensured an efficient declaration, allocation and use of available airport capacity; facilitated consumer choice of air services (improving global connectivity); and enhanced competition at congested airports for passengers and cargo. The system, however, is not perfect. And ACI, IATA and WWACG are fully committed to continuously improve the global slot process to ensure it responds to increasing traffic demand.
This year has seen the agreement of one of the most significant changes yet. It has been decided to rename the WSG as the WASG – the Worldwide Airport Slot Guidelines. This brings an overdue recognition that the providers of the airport capacity, the airport operators, did not previously have sufficient input into the guidelines. New governance arrangements have rectified this, ensuring ACI, IATA and WWACG are joint industry partners in delivering modern and efficient slot policy and process.
The outcomes of the Strategic Review of the slot guidelines by ACI, IATA and WWACG delivered significant changes and enhancements to the slot process. These changes are primarily focused on:
- easing the access to congested airports by introducing changes to the criteria to allocate slots, aimed at ensuring a fair balance between new entrants and non-new entrants for both regular allocation and for the allocation of new capacity
- enhancing the standards for monitoring the actual utilization by airlines of allocated slots, which will reinforce this process as an essential element of airport slot coordination, and set clear roles and responsibilities of airport operators, airlines and slot coordinators to optimize performance
- improving the airport capacity declaration process with additional clarity of the roles of airport operators and slot coordinators, the need to review coordination parameters twice a year.
If the benefits of aviation connectivity are to be sustained, then we must have a set of efficient, global guidelines that are applied without fear or favor everywhere in the world, whilst recognizing national or regional legislations. The new governance for the WASG opens a new era of collaboration between the airlines, airport operators and slot coordinators in setting and maintaining a harmonized slot allocation process. And it ensures the WASG will continue to evolve to meet the ever-changing demands of the aviation industry, to the benefit of passengers the world over.