What are airport slots and why do they matter?

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What is an airport slot?

The fundamentals of slots defined to prevent congestion at busy airports

An air traffic slot is an authorisation to either takeoff or land at a specific airport at a particular time during a specific day. Airport slots, which restrict the number of planes taking off or landing at highly congested airports, are authorised for planned aircraft activity. The airport slots are used globally to regulate air traffic at busy airports and prevent consecutive delays caused by too many aircraft taking off or landing simultaneously.

Airport slots effectively are short windows of time that airlines have between takeoff and landing to add additional flights. These airport slots are crucial for keeping an airport operating effectively and efficiently, which enables airports to handle more flights and passengers in a given day. If all aircraft arrive at the same time, then this is what is referred to as the theoretical maximum capacity for the airport. Airports have a limited number of times they can let aircraft take off and land each hour.

An example of this would be a supermarket; when you arrive, you can see if a few cars are parked outside, and it does not look too busy inside. However, if everyone needs to check out all simultaneously, this will cause congestion.

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Airport slot rights are particularly crucial for private and general aviation, which often rely on connections between smaller cities or secondary airports. Business aviation charters may need to use a nearby hub to provide service from these locations to connect passengers to different destinations.

Slot rights allow airlines to connect these secondary airports and nearby hubs, offering more flights to more destinations. In other words, air slot rights enable airlines to expand their networks by connecting smaller airports with nearby hubs.

Airport slots are used to manage traffic at airports around the world. Slots have been in place for decades, thanks to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). They classify airports into three categories based on capacity and demand:

Level 1: The airports that fall into this category have full capacity to meet the required demand and are considered non-coordinated airports.

Level 2: These airports are at risk of congestion, especially at certain travel peaks depending on the day/week/season. These airports are considered slot-facilitated airports.

Level 3: Busy airports require advance approval to operate because their infrastructure demands are significantly higher than their capacity. These airports are considered coordinated airports.

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Europe includes 180 coordinated (Level 3) and schedule-facilitated (Level 2) airports. Certain airports experience seasonal variations following summer and winter destination trends since many coordinated airports experience congestion, while there are fewer in winter.

During summer, slots are required and are difficult to confirm at popular Mediterranean island airports such as Ibiza, Menorca, Olbia, and Mykonos.

For the winter period, as passengers head to popular snowy destinations, some airports move from a level 2 to a level 3 status due to demand. An example would be Innsbruck, Austria, as it provides a central route to popular skiing resorts in the Tyrol area. Geneva is also busier during winter, making slots harder to confirm.

Many airports remain level 3 airports all year round due to the continued demand and are considered to be 'hubs' due to the amount of air traffic. Some of these airports include Biggin Hill (UK), Farnborough (UK), Zurich (CH), Nice (FR), Frankfurt (DE), Paris Charles de Gaulle (FR), and Milan Linate (IT).

How are airport slots rights determined?

Air slot rights are determined based on a complex set of rules, which vary by location based on demand and growth projections for each airport. These rules are designed to ensure that no single airport becomes overburdened with flights, resulting in more noise, traffic, and pollution.

An example would be Munich Airport (EDDM), where no private jet charters are allowed to land after 22h00LT due to noise pollution. Should an aircraft be delayed and not meet the deadline, the aircraft will need to be diverted to the nearest alternative.

Air slot rules are typically determined by the airport's governing body, often with input from airlines and other stakeholders. These rules help avoid two airlines fighting over a single air slot. Which are expected to change frequently as demand for air travel changes over time.

Air slot rules also have a built-in process for airlines to appeal for additional slots if they need them. In this case, airlines may be asked to provide proof of flight demand. This could include data on future travel demand, as well as passenger surveys showing that there is a need for the flight.

Below will be an example of slot allocation in Geneva (GVA). Private jet charters can watch live to see what slots are available for take-off and landings in real-time:


Airlines and general/business aviation must have an airport slot allocated to operate into and out of a coordinated airport. The slot coordinators/facilitators must follow European regulation 95/93 in a neutral, non-discriminatory, and open manner and be independent of all aviation stakeholders.

Airport slots are allocated based on capacity parameters established by airport operators after consulting with the airport users and coordinators. Authorities establish slot coordination entities at the national level after coordinating with airport operators, airlines, and trade associations (such as IATA). A handling agent may either request slots directly or ask their handling agent to manage them.

What does the GlobeAir #DreamTeam recommend:

  • Choose to fly with a Private Jet Operator
  • Book your journey as early as possible to obtain the desired slot.
  • Try not to modify your trip as this would affect availability and may cause the slot to be lost
  • Be prepared for higher prices due to higher costs


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