Almost 15,000 ‘ghost flights’ have left UK since pandemic began

Almost 15,000 “ghost flights” have flown from the UK since the coronavirus pandemic began in March, according to new official data.

These were near-empty or empty flights that took off from airports so that airlines could keep up to their contractual obligations to fly.

The ghost flights operated from 32 airports, with Heathrow topping the list, flying 4,910 international ghost flights between March 2020 and September 2021, according to the data collected by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Such flights have sparked a backlash from climate campaigners as flying is already one of the most carbon-intensive activities and long-haul flights generate more carbon emissions. Ghost flights also sparked a UK parliamentary petition, demanding to ground unoccupied flights.

An average of 760 ghost flights departed from the UK airports in a month but the data only covered international departures and not domestic flights.

These are flown by airlines purely to hang on to their landing slots at airports, adhering to the 80:20 rule, which requires an airline to use a slot 80 per cent of the time. Any less, and the permit must be handed back.

But after the onset of the pandemic, the British government suspended these rules and airlines were not required to operate empty or almost-empty flights solely to retain the slots. Despite not needing to fly, airlines operated nearly 15,000 flights.

The figures compiled by the CAA till September 2021 were released by parliamentary under-secretary at…


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