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Why were 5,000 ‘ghost flights’ allowed to fly in British airspace since 2019?

It could be that airlines simply want to retain their slots at airports

Written by
Ellie Muir

It’s agreed upon that flying is pretty bad for the environment. But you know what’s even worse? Flying a plane with no passengers on it at all. Not only is it fuel-guzzling and air-polluting, but it’s also entirely pointless.

And so here’s some disheartening news. New analysis of data from the Civil Aviation Authority has revealed that more than 5,000 empty passenger flights – that’s right, 5,000 completely empty flights – have flown from or to the UK since 2019. On top of that, 35,000 commercial flights have operated almost empty, with fewer than 10 percent of seats filled, according to The Guardian.

Overall, 40,000 of these so-called ‘ghost flights’ have taken off from or landed at UK airports since 2019 – an average of 130 per month. Eight airports – including Heathrow, Manchester, Gatwick and Stansted – accounted for roughly two-thirds of the flights.

It’s unclear why completely empty ‘ghost flights’ were allowed to fly, but one potential reason could be that the airlines want to retain their slots at airports. This is apparently known as the ‘use it or lose it’ rule, and is enforced by the European Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US. Not a great excuse, if you ask us!

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