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Brussels Airlines has operated 3,000 flights without passengers this winter to avoid losing take-off and landing slots.

he airline’s parent company, Lufthansa Group, confirmed that 18,000 flights had been flown empty, including 3,000 Brussels Airlines services, according to a report in The Bulletin.

EU rules require that airlines operate a certain percentage of scheduled flights to keep their slots at major airports.

Under these “use it or lose it” regulations, prior to the pandemic carriers had to utilise at least 80pc of their scheduled take-off and landing slots.

This was revised to 50pc as coronavirus saw travel become increasingly difficult – but airlines are still struggling to hit this target.

As a result of Lufthansa Group’s latest figures, the Belgian federal government has written to the European Commission, calling for a change to the rules on maintaining slots.

It follows the news that European airlines are slashing their winter schedules amid a dampening of demand due to Omicron travel restrictions.

Lufthansa Group, which owns the carriers Lufthansa, Swiss International Airlines, Austrian Airlines, and Eurowings in addition to Brussels Airlines, has already axed 33,000 flights in January and February.

Although the company saw an uplift in bookings in autumn, this has plunged again for early 2022, with many countries tightening entry requirements in the wake of the latest coronavirus variant.

Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr told AFAR: “In the fall, we were still pleasantly surprised at how well our business had picked up. But from mid-January to February, we are actually seeing a sharp downturn in bookings.”

The total number of cancellations in the months ahead represents 10pc of its previous schedule.

Ryanair has also cut its January schedule by 33pc due to a drop in bookings following the spread of Omicron and accompanying travel restrictions.

It is running a sale until January 31, offering 10 million seats across its network from €29.99 for travel between April and September of this year.

In a pre-Christmas press release highlighting the deals, Ryanair’s Director of Marketing, Dara Brady urged customers to book, saying air fares are “likely to increase in S’22 due to reduced capacity”.

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