Revealed: 5,000 empty ‘ghost flights’ in UK since 2019, data shows

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Exclusive: A further 35,000 flights have operated almost empty, with climate campaigners calling the revelations ‘shocking’

Airlines have denied operating ghost flights to retain slots. The normal 80:20 rule, meaning 80% of flights on a route must operate to retain the valuable slots, only applies to the busiest airports and was suspended from the end of March 2020 because of the pandemic. It was reintroduced as a 50:50 rule in October 2021 andSome airlines have said that some ghost flights took place during the pandemic to fly in Covid-related supplies on passenger planes.

A Luton airport spokesperson said the reasons for the high number of ghost flights included Covid travel restrictions and regulatory requirements regarding aircraft airworthiness and pilot licensing. “Following the removal of all travel restrictions, average passenger loads per flight have returned to 88% this summer,” he said. Repositioning of aircraft and maintenance was among the reasons given by Bristol airport for its ghost flights.

The spokesperson for Airlines UK said: “UK airlines are fully committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Alongside filling our flights as much as possible, we are making ‘jet zero’ a reality by modernising our airspace to further reduce inefficiencies, using at least 10% sustainable aviation fuel by 2030 and driving the development of zero emission commercial aircraft.”


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