Federal regulators waived a rule Wednesday that was causing airlines to fly nearly empty planes just to avoid losing takeoff and landing rights at major airports.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it would suspend the rule through May 31 to help airlines that are canceling flights because of the new virus outbreak.
The FAA assigns takeoff and landing rights, or “slots,” at a few big, congested airports. Airlines must use 80% of their highly coveted slots or risk forfeiting them.
That FAA requirement — and especially a similar rule in Europe — led airlines to operate flights using those slots even if there were very few passengers.
The FAA’s decision affects flights at John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York and Reagan Washington National Airport outside Washington, D.C.
The FAA said it also would not punish airlines that cancel flights through May 31 at four other airports where the agency approves schedules: Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey; Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport.
The FAA waiver covers U.S. and foreign airlines. The agency’s announcement came a day after the European Commission promised to move quickly to waive its similar rule.
It could take weeks or even months for the European Commission to adopt the proposal, but it is likely to have immediate effect. It is a signal to airlines that they can stop flying mostly empty planes and still be confident that the emergency rules change will be approved before airport slots are allotted again.
Donald Trump has suspended all travel to the US from Europe for 30 days to try and tackle the coronavirus crisis.
The draconian measures come into effect from midnight Friday, but do not apply to the United Kingdom. Trump revealed his plans in a rare Oval Office address on Wednesday night while criticizing the European Union for allowing the virus to take hold.
He said: ‘The European Union failed to take the same precautions (as the US) and restrict travel from China and other hotspots. As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travelers from Europe.
‘After consulting with our top government health officials I have decided to take several strong but necessary actions to protect the health of all Americans. To stop new cases from entering our shores we will be suspending all travel from Europe to our shores for 30 days.’