Air Transport World

Grandfather is well and living in Europe. (grandfather clause gives airlines the right to keep highly coveted airport slots)

When I become a grandfather myself, I may find these so-called rights less-difficult to understand," Richard Branson, colorful head of his own Virgin Atlantic Airways, said here recently.

"Or I may not," he added. "For among many silly things in aviation, this particular concept stands out as exceptionally absurd."

Grandfather rights--which enshrine the principle that takeoff and landing slots awarded to a carrier at an airport remain the "property" of that carrier as long as it sees fit to apply for renewal--cover the assignment of up to 80% of the slots at congested airports in Europe such as London Heathrow or Stanstead, or Paris Charles de Gaulle. However, a new-entrant airline can become a grandfather in 12 months flat.

The purists like to point out that the grandfather-rights phrase is a misnomer; to be absolutely correct, you have to say, "historical precedence." British Transport Secretary Malcolm Rifkind gave as his opinion recently: "No airline has a legal right to a takeoff or landing slot. Rather, [the] airlines have permission and this must be subject to the public interest."

Branson, whose regular strapping on of the armor of a "Don Quixote" to till against the big windmill of the airline industry is well-documented, finds himself supported by few Sancho Panzas in his view that the grandfather doctrine is absurd.

It might have been thought that the European Community Commission (ECC), with its dedication to knocking down that what it sees as cozy cartels during its march toward airline liberalization that begins Jan. 1, would have been eager to help grasp this particular lance. But having examined the IATA-led system of slot allocation--including the issue of grandfather rights--the ECC concluded, in effect: "If it works, don't fix it."

That last statement has to be qualified, however, for the bureaucrats of the ECC's Berlamont headquarters building in Brussels still fancy giving the IATA system a massage and the proposed tweaks are causing airline managers within the 12 EC member nations to lose a considerable amount of sleep. …

Log in to your account to read this article – and millions more.