Ghost flights: The reason behind them

(Photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash)

Did you know that there are planes flying empty in the sky right now? Have you been on an almost empty flight?

Perhaps you wonder why there are such ghost flights - today, we’ll reveal the mystery.

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Now, read on to find out what ghost planes are and why they are sometimes necessary.

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What is a ghost flight?

A flight that is empty or almost empty is often called a ghost flight (sometimes empty planes are called ghost planes, but this could mean a crashed one too, or one transporting prisoners).

Airlines continue to fly planned routes regularly even though there are few or no passengers at all on board.

Why do airlines operate ghost flights?

In Europe, airlines are required to continue to fly these routes so that they can retain their airport slots. In the United States, there is a similar regulation enforced by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The regulatory body in Europe is the European Commission, which governs airports’ ability to force airlines to stick to the “use it or lose it” rule regarding slots. This takeoff and landing policy states that airlines must use their time slots 80% of the time. Otherwise, they risk losing them to the competition.

The problem with ghost flights

Air travel accounts for about 2.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

The impact of the carbon emissions on the climate, together with the financial losses of the airlines, especially since the coronavirus outbreak, lead to the decision to temporarily lift the slot rules. The European Commission announced its decision on 10 March, 2020. British Airways and easyJet, among others, expressed their support.

This is not the first time the “ghost flight” rule is suspended. A similar event occurred after the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001, during a SARS outbreak in 2003, as well as the financial crisis in 2008.

According to its last report, the forecast of The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is for an enormous net loss of $118.5 billion for 2020 and $38.7 billion in 2021.

Why is Ryanair still operating ghost flights?

Despite the lifting of the rule, Ryanair is still flying empty planes that often land back from where they departed.

The reason behind this is that airplanes and pilots need to be kept operationally ready.

Moreover, aircrafts can’t just be left at the airport if they’re not flying - they need to be prepared for storage. That’s why many airlines have wrapped their aircraft engines in plastic.

Meanwhile, Ryanair preferred a different solution - to continue flying its planes instead of storing them.

In addition, there is a requirement that pilots must complete a certain number of take-offs and landings within a specific time frame to remain current. Ghost flights help keep both them and the aircrafts in shape.

To sum up

Even though ghost flights might seem unnecessary and additionally polluting the environment, there is some logic behind them, apart from preserving precious airport slots - such as training and maintenance activities, keeping the aircraft and the pilots current.

There will always be ghost planes in the air, but hopefully, the aviation industry will start to recover from the Covid 19 pandemic and return to a more normal state.

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