Coronavirus fears cause airlines to fly 'ghost flights'

The skies are getting spooky.

Thanks to specific airline regulations, certain carriers are running “ghost flights” — planes devoid of passengers — in response to the many cancellations attributed to the coronavirus. Now, airline officials are hoping to get those regulations changed or, at least, temporarily suspended.

Airlines operating in Europe have to adhere to the “80/20” rule, which says that they must operate at least 80 percent of their allocated airport slots. If they fail to do so, a competitor could potentially take control of those slots during an annual assessment, the New York Post reports.

Airlines operating in Europe have to adhere to the “80/20” rule, which says that they must operate at least 80 percent of their allocated airport slots. If they fail to do so, a competitor could potentially take control of those slots during an annual assessment, the New York Post reports. (iStock)

The global outbreak of coronavirus has caused a large increase in flight cancellations, which is apparently forcing airlines to fly empty jets to certain European airports in order to maintain their allocation of airport slots, The New York Post reports

According to the outlet, airlines operating in Europe have to adhere to the “80/20” rule, which means they must operate at least 80 percent of their allocated airport slots. If they fail to do so, a competitor could potentially take control of those slots during an annual assessment.

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Flying these empty planes can be costly, however. Airlines have to burn an average of five gallons of jet fuel per mile, according to the New York Post. These flights also emit an average of a half-ton of carbon dioxide per seat. This has prompted airline officials to call for the rule to be suspended.

“Temporary suspension will enable U.K. airlines to respond to market conditions with appropriate capacity and avoiding any need to run empty flights in order to maintain slot rights,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines U.K., an association that represents UK-registered carriers, in a statement shared with The Sunday Times.

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Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak is affecting airlines across the globe.

United Airlines recently announced they will reduce flights, freeze hiring and ask employees to volunteer for unpaid leave as the airline struggles with weak demand for travel because of the new virus outbreak.

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United said Wednesday that starting in April it will reduce passenger-carrying capacity 20 percent on international routes and 10 percent in the U.S. — the first airline to cut domestic flying. United officials said they will temporarily ground an unspecified number of planes.