What are airport slots?

How Do Airport Slots Work

Booking a private jet charter flight means that you get to eliminate crowded terminals, long security checks and flying at a time that suits you. These are some of the main differences between flying private and commercial travel.

However you will at some point whether you’re a first time flyer or a seasoned jet traveller come across a ‘slot delay’ for your flight. As such, scheduled take offs and landings—known as slots—are strictly controlled to maximize air traffic efficiency.

The Network Manager covers the whole of Europe. It handles over 10 million flights a year with summer peaks of over 34 thousand a day.

That means an aircraft is taking off or entering European airspace every three seconds. Inevitably, there are bottlenecks. These may be in particularly busy bits of airspace or at some airports at some times of day. Any disruption, such as a runway out of action, fog, a thunderstorm or technical failure, can result in difficulties.

The Network Manager receives flight plans for all the commercial flights in its area and also receives the declared capacity limits for air traffic control centres and airports across the continent. So for example if an airport has snow or fog, it may reduce the rate at which aircraft can land. This is called a regulation.

The Network Manager then looks at the whole picture and problem areas are identified – where the demand is greater than the capacity.

The slot

If capacity is still less than demand, then the demand needs to be managed. For an en-route sector, this is a question of safety. Overloading a controller by giving him or her too many aircraft at once is just too risky, particularly if the sector has complex traffic, with criss-crossing aircraft that need to climb and/or descend.

For an airport, it is possible to manage incoming traffic by putting them into holding patterns (‘stacks’) – each aircraft flying in ovals and gradually descending while waiting their turn. However, that wastes fuel and is environmentally undesirable.

Demand is managed by giving the aircraft a slot stating when it can take-off – the ‘Calculated Time of Take Off’ or CTOT. Normally, the aircraft should take-off within 15 minutes of the time stated in its flight plan but, if a slot is necessary, then this window is shrunk – to within five minutes before the CTOT or within ten minutes after the CTOT. If the aircraft can’t achieve this take-off time, then it has to reapply for a slot.

Who decides on which flight is delayed?

As you might expect, airlines are very keen to make sure there is no discrimination and so we have developed open and fair algorithms. So it doesn’t matter if you are in an A320 or an A380, or whether you’re flying national airline, low-cost or charter, you will be treated the same.

However, slots do have their downsides, especially when it comes to flying by private jet. Commercial aircraft always have priorities when it comes to taking off or landing, this is the rule. Commercial airlines are given preference for slot selection. 

Private jet travellers are sometimes bemused that they can’t fly when they want, however once everything has been explained, they are more understanding. It’s definitely not a great situation to be in, having to tell your client that they have a slot day.

We recently had some clients who were travelling to Amsterdam on a lads weekend. Their flight was delayed twice due to slot delays in Amsterdam. High traffic volume on a Friday was the cause of the delay.

However with Falcona being on site, we were able to order some last minute champagne for all eight guests to ease their pain and make the time go faster! Before they knew it they were ready to board the plane to Amsterdam.

What are holding patterns?

There are a number of reasons for this. The first is that sometimes regulations are necessary at very short notice. So if the weather becomes unexpectedly worse, or there is an incident on a runway (such as a burst tyre) or if the airport has to change the direction of landing because of a shift in the wind direction, then any aircraft already in the air, heading for that airport, may have to wait before they can land.

A second reason is that some airports are operating so close to capacity that it is very important for them to be able to sequence arriving aircraft as efficiently as possible.

Smaller aircraft (such as an A320) behind a big aircraft (such as an A380) have to leave a bigger gap because of the wake of the aircraft in front. So it’s much better to group arriving aircraft according to their size.

However, in the near term, the use of flow management in general, and slots in particular, is set to grow with many more areas of the world encountering the levels of congestion we see here in Europe.

Avoiding congestion in the skies

And while the slot system poses a significant challenge to commercial aviation, it can be even more difficult for people flying privately to access these airports. This is because the system is geared towards serving as many air travellers as possible.

Slots are generally in place for major hub airports in the surrounding area of most major events whether that be sporting or governmental events such as Davos.

Every aircraft whether commercial plane or private jet must request in advance, and receive a designated time to depart and arrive into the local airports.

These times are based on availability, and traffic patterns, not necessarily what flyers prefer. However, the earlier you book your flight, the better chance you have at receiving your requested time(s) for arrival and departures.

Ibiza Airport

Choosing a popular summer destination and an island can add up a slot problem for private jet users. There is a poor slot availability in Ibiza during the summer, which makes flying there problematic. We always let our clients know that they may get a slot delay, so it’s less of a stress for them on the day of travel if it happens.

Example Flight we did this summer for clients trip to Ibiza;

Hi Falcona,

Please find attached the flight brief for this trip. Unfortunately we have only got a slot into Ibiza for a 15.20 local arrival. We have been told that the airport is really buy and the airport authorities are denying everything for tomorrow. We are still chasing Ibiza handling agent for you, for the 14.35 local arrival slot.

We are trying our best to improve this slot and we will update you if there is any change. I will advise once we have heard back from the handling agents.

A good working relationship like ours with this particular operator always helps in situations like this. They kept us informed throughout, even though the original slot was not possible, they made sure we were able to keep our passengers up to speed and most importantly happy!

Summer is always a busy time for private jet charter flights, especially to these destinations. We always recommend that you book your flight at least 4 weeks prior to departure date.

F1 Grand Prix & Champions League Final

The biggest sporting and other major events that impact slots for jet traffic are the UEFA Champions League Final in football and the F1 Monaco Grand Prix and Cannes Film Festival. The influx of a lot of aircraft flying in for theses events doubles what the airports normally get, so it can cause an issue for the airports.

Slots can be implemented when major sporting events are scheduled, which attract large numbers of flights it’s not used to.

For example we had clients flying out from Manchester to the Champions League Final in Ukraine. This was a nightmare for clients as the slots into it for their flight was changed even though the original slot time had not been changed by client.

This was due to the fact that the airport wasn’t ready or capable of handling that much air traffic all at once. They managed to get to the final with no hassle albeit slightly later. Good job they had booked to fly out the day before!

aerial view on fontvieille and monaco harbor with luxury yachts, french riviera

Restrictions and repositioning of flights is a possibility so that the airports, especially the smaller ones can cope. During the busy summer months many slot accessible airports can be a headache for passengers.

Airport parking is in high demand

Airport parking is always in high demand during the peak summer season. With many of the islands and smaller airports having limited parking, an aircraft may have to drop you off, then reposition to another airport close by. This will add onto the cost of your flight for the repositioning.

So we always recommend that you book your private jet as soon as you know the exact days of your flights and stick to it. Otherwise you risk losing your slot.


So next time you are waiting for a slot, remember that it’s better to be on the ground waiting rather than in the air and burning excess fuel unnecessarily.

 

Footnotes:

https://www.eurocontrol.int/news/what-slot 



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