KLM lost 24% of Asia passengers due to coronavirus; Joins fight to loosen takeoff, landing slot rules

On Tuesday, Dutch airline KLM reported the first visible effects of the Covid-19 variant of coronavirus on its passenger numbers. “KLM had 2.7% fewer passengers on board this month compared to the same month last year,” the airline said in a statement about February passenger totals. “Passenger volumes decreased significantly by 23.7% on destinations in Asia.”

"As a result, the airline industry, and KLM too, has entered a difficult and uncertain period," KLM president and CEO Pieter Elbers said about the coronavirus. “KLM is doing everything in its power to deal with this crisis and will continue to adjust the network and take other appropriate measures."

KLM wants the aviation authorities to loosen the rules around the allocation of takeoff and landing slots, so that airlines do not lose their slots due to flights canceled over the coronavirus Covid-19. Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen of Infrastructure said that she will ask the European Commission to suspend the slot rules for the time being, NRC reports.

The slot rules state that airlines must use 80 percent of their requested slots in the winter and summer season in order to keep them the following season. But due to the spread of the coronavirus, more and more flights are being canceled because of travel restrictions and a sharp decline in travelers. 

The 'use it or lose it' rule is currently forcing airlines to fly half-empty planes in order not to lose their slots. Photos of empty cabins on social media prompted surprised and indignant reactions, also because of the climate damage caused by air travel.

The European Commission is expected to make a decision on temporarily adjusting the slot rules on Tuesday. A source in Brussels told NRC that the Commission will likely give its permission to do so.

IATA, the umbrella association representing many airlines around the world, expects a global loss this year of 63 billion dollars if the spread of Covid-19 remains limited, and a 113 billion dollar loss if it spreads extensively.

At Schiphol on Tuesday, KLM crossed out 15 flights to Italy, EasyJet scratched three to Milan and Venice, and Alitalia canceled two of its flights to Milan. There were 43 departing flights canceled in total, including 19 from bankrupt airline FlyBe, and flights to Tokyo, London, Istanbul and Copenhagen.