The EU on Monday suspended its "use-it-or-lose-it" rules governing slots at airports in an emergency measure for airlines already largely grounded by the coronavirus crisis.
The European Council, representing the 27 member states, formally shelved until October 24 the requirement that airlines use 80 per cent of their slots -- take-off and landing authorisations -- or lose them the following year.
It aims "to help air carriers cope with the drastic drop in air traffic," the council said in a statement.
The measure, announced by the European Commission three weeks ago and passed last week by the European Parliament, will thus cover the usual busy summer period for Europe.
Airlines everywhere have massively scaled back services as national isolation measures and fear over the spread of the novel coronavirus have taken hold.
Many have started reducing work hours for employees, with expectations of mass layoffs in the sector to come.
Leading European budget airlines Ryanair and EasyJet have grounded virtually all their fleets. Germany's flagship airline Lufthansa has warned state aid is needed to guarantee the future of the sector.
The slot waiver adopted by the EU will apply retroactively to March 1 for flights within the bloc, and from January 23 to February 29 for flights between the EU and China, including Hong Kong.
The European Union has already enacted such temporary suspensions in the past, notably during the SARS epidemic in 2003 and in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.