Why do airlines operate ‘ghost flights’?


More and more airlines are operating ‘ghost flights’, flights with no passengers or cargo on board. Ghost flights cost airlines a lot of money, which raises the question: Why do airlines operate them?

A first reason for an airline to operate ghost flights is to maintain landing slots at certain airports. Some airports require airlines to use their slots for example at least 70 percent of the time. If airlines do not use their slots enough, the slots are given to different carriers. Airports use to measure to prevent airlines from hogging slots, to keep competition out for example.

Ghost fights are also operated because airlines want to keep their aircraft flying. Ryanair did this when their fleet was grounded due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe. By keeping their aircraft flying, even if it was for four minutes per day, maintenance costs were kept relatively low and the planes were kept operational. Aircraft that are sitting idle for a longer period of time require extensive maintenace before returining to regular service. This is expensive and the time it takes to inspect the aircraft makes the airline less flexible.

A final reason airlines operate ghost fights is to maintain crew currency. Most aviation regulators require pilots to have performed at least thee take-offs and three landings in the previous 90 days. Usually, these take-offs and landings can be done in a simulator, but this is not always possible. For example, Asiana Airlines does not have any Airbus A380 simulators. The South-Korean airline struck a deal with Thai Airways to use their simulators in Bangkok, but due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions this is not possible. Asiana therefore has to operate ghost flights to maintain crew currency.

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