Board of Airline Representatives In the Netherlands

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Airline organizations weigh in on passenger rights changes by Anne Paylor 15 Mar.13

A day after the European Commission announced proposed changes to Regulation 261/2004 concerning the rights of air passengers, the airline industry is still deliberating the changes.

Overall, the general reaction from the region’s major airline organizations is that change is welcome because the existing regulation is badly in need of clarification. However, not all the changes are deemed to be good.

European Regions Airline Association (ERA) DG Simon McNamara told ATW: “Regulation 261/2004 is ambiguous, confusing and open-ended. As a result, a large number of cases have been referred to the European Court of Justice, which gives its own interpretation of the law. It has been a mess for both passengers and airlines, so we welcome the fact that it is going to be revised. But there are some things we like in the proposed changes and some we don’t.”

The European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA) has welcomed the decision to clarify the “poorly worded” Regulation 261/2004, but said the proposal “falls short of establishing a level playing field.”

Like other airline organizations, ELFAA believes “an important improvement is the further clarification of the concept of ‘extraordinary circumstances’.” Natural disasters or strikes by air traffic controllers, for example, would be classed as extraordinary, but not technical problems identified during routine aircraft maintenance.

ELFAA recommends the proposal be modified to ensure that financial compensation, where payable, is proportionate to the fare paid, as with other transport modes. It also welcomed the proposed right of redress that would enable airlines to recover compensation costs from third parties—such as striking air traffic controllers or airports that are insufficiently prepared for poor weather—responsible for the disruption.

ELFAA secretary general John Hanlon said: “The Commission’s proposal is a step in the right direction, but there is more to be done to remove the disparities between EC Regulations covering air transport and other modes, with which air transport competes.”

The Commission’s proposals will go to the European Parliament and Council, which will ultimately decide the specific wording of the regulation, a process that could take 12 to 18 months, according to McNamara. The airline organizations will now focus on lobbying the European Parliament to ensure the final rule addresses their particular concerns with the proposed packaged.