Bruxelles, le 16 février 2006
Demain, premier jour anniversaire de l’entrée en vigueur du règlement relatif aux droits des passagers aériens, la Commission européenne rencontrera les organismes nationaux chargés de son application, pour faire le point sur la mise en œuvre de cette législation dans les États membres. Le règlement améliore la protection des passagers aériens en cas de refus d'embarquement, d'annulation ou de retard important.
«La protection des droits des passagers aériens doit aller de pair avec un renforcement de la mobilité en Europe», a déclaré Jacques Barrot, vice-président de la Commission chargé des transports. «Les organismes nationaux chargés de l’application du règlement ont un rôle important à jouer pour garantir à tous le bénéfice total de ces droits.»
La rencontre de demain, qui est la deuxième depuis l’entrée en vigueur du règlement, permettra aux organismes nationaux de partager leur expérience et de renforcer leur coordination afin que l’application des règles de protection des passagers soit harmonisée dans toute l’Europe. Elle permettra également à la Commission d’obtenir une meilleure vue d’ensemble des problèmes rencontrés et de proposer des améliorations, le cas échéant.
Les organismes nationaux chargés de l’application du règlement dans les États membres sont le premier interlocuteur des voyageurs qui estiment que leurs droits n’ont pas été respectés. La Commission a déjà prié les États membres de veiller à ce que leurs organismes nationaux prennent en charge l’ensemble du règlement des litiges entre les passagers et les compagnies aériennes. Le souci d’éviter aux passagers de longues et coûteuse actions en justice figure parmi les principaux objectifs de la nouvelle réglementation. Pour cela, il faut que les organismes chargés de son application soient indépendants et disposent de ressources suffisantes. La Commission abordera une nouvelle fois ces questions lors de la réunion de demain.
Un autre point figurant l’ordre du jour concernera la notion de «circonstances exceptionnelles», souvent invoquée par les transporteurs en cas de perturbation des services aériens. Les organismes nationaux chargés de l’application du règlement ne peuvent apprécier l’existence de telles circonstances qu’au cas par cas. Bien que la sécurité des vols soit une priorité absolue, la notion de «circonstances exceptionnelles» ne doit pas servir de prétexte pour diminuer la protection des consommateurs.
La Commission soumettra dans le courant de l’année un rapport complet au Parlement européen et au Conseil sur le fonctionnement du règlement, y compris, le cas échéant, de nouvelles propositions législatives.
D’après les premières observations, les passagers sont aujourd’hui mieux informés de la législation et plus déterminés à faire valoir leurs droits , ce qui constitue un effet positif de la nouvelle législation.
One year of new Air Passenger Rights
21/12/2001 : The European Commission proposes the Regulation establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to air passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights (COM/2001/784). This Regulation repeals Regulation 295/91 establishing common rules for a denied-boarding compensation system in scheduled air transport.
18/12/2003: The European Parliament adopts with overwhelming majority (467 in favour, 4 against and 13 abstentions) the Commission’s proposal.
26/01/2004: The Council adopts the proposal (only UK and IRL vote against).
17/02/2004: Publication of the Regulation as Regulation [EC]261/2004.
24/09/2004: The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA) and Hapag-Lloyd Express challenge the Regulation in the European Court of Justice.
16/12/2004: The Commission writes to all Member States requesting information on their progress in creating their National Enforcement Bodies and in incorporating sanction regimes in their national legislation. Both provisions need to be in place when the Regulation comes into force on 17/02/05.
26/01/2005: The Commission reminds Member States of its letter of 16/12/2004.
17/02/2005: Coming into force of the Regulation (IP/05/181).
09/03/2005 : The Commission writes to all Member States requesting the information notices for passengers of all air carriers under their licence (under the Regulation, airlines are obliged to inform their passengers of their rights).
19/05/2005: The Commission meets with the National Enforcement Bodies in Brussels as part of its monitoring activities to ensure proper implementation of the Regulation by the Member States.
06/07/2005: The Commission starts infringement procedures (letters of reasoned opinion) against Austria, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta and Sweden for failure to incorporate sanction regimes in their national legislation. In the case of Luxemburg, also for failure to set up a National Enforcement Body (IP/05/858).
14/12/2005: The Commission refers Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg and Sweden to the European Court of Justice and sends a letter of reasoned opinion to Slovakia for failure to incorporate sanction regimes in their national legislation (IP/05/1587).
10/01/2006: The European Court of Justice confirms validity of the Regulation in the case brought by IATA, ELFAA and Hapag-Lloyd Express (IP/06/12).
17/02/2006: First anniversary of the Regulation. The Commission invites the National Enforcement Bodies to Brussels for a second meeting on the implementation of the legislation.
1. Since 17 February 2005, Regulation [EC]261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to air passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights has been in force in the EU. The legislation applies to all airlines leaving from the EU and to all airlines licensed by an EU Member State flying from outside the EU to the EU. It covers scheduled and domestic flights as well as charters.
2. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA) and Hapag-Lloyd Express challenged the Regulation before the European Court of Justice. On 10/01/2006 the Court confirmed the validity of the Regulation (IP/06/12).
3. Airlines are obliged to inform their passengers of their rights under this Regulation, which could include financial compensation, reimbursement or re-routing, meals and hotels as well as general assistance (see overview table attached to IP/05/181). Airlines are not obliged to pay compensation if they can prove that the cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken (e.g. political instability, meteorological conditions, security risks, unexpected flight safety shortcomings, wild cat strikes) – safety remains the most important right of each passenger ! In these cases, the burden of proof lies with the airline, and passengers still have the right to information, assistance and re-routing.
4. National Enforcement Bodies in the Member States are the first port of call for passengers who feel that their rights have not been respected. Sanctions are to be imposed by Member States on airlines in breach of the Regulation. The Commission has no competence to intervene directly in disputes between citizens and private companies, but monitors airlines’ and Member States’ obligations towards passengers. The Commission will not refrain from using the legal instruments at its disposal to have them comply with the Regulation.
5. The Commission has called upon the Member States to make sure that their National Enforcement Bodies assume their role as described in article 16 of the Regulation and come to a full dispute settlement between passengers and airlines, since this can avoid long and costly legal proceedings. This implies that they have to be independent and have sufficient resources at their disposal. The Commission has already urged Member States to address these issues and this will be one of the points on the agenda of the second meeting with the National Enforcement Bodies which the Commission has called for 17/02/2006.
6. The Regulation was published one year before it came into force on 17/02/05) (so now two years ago) , which gave airlines and Member States the time to prepare and to put in place all necessary provisions. It is therefore unacceptable that some airlines and certain Member States fail to comply with these rules. The Commission will continue to remind Member States of their obligations under this Regulation and to make use of its legal instruments when necessary. This has already resulted in each Member State now having an Enforcement Body. Other procedures have been launched with regard to incorporation of sanctions into national legislation.
7. Although the National Enforcement Bodies are the first port of call for passengers who feel their rights have not been respected, the Commission receives every month about 500 direct complaints from passengers. These direct complaints show the following trends:
a) Passengers seem to be more aware of their rights:
In 2005, the Commission was contacted directly by passengers roughly 4 times more than in 2004. In addition, Europe Direct (the EU’s contact point for the public at large through email or a single free telephone number) received around 13.000 questions on these air passengers rights during 2005!
b) The legislation adopted in 1991 (Regulation 295/91), which covered denied boarding only, seems to have a dissuasive impact: In 2005, less than 10 % of passengers who contacted the Commission directly did so on denied boarding, against around 60% on cancellations and delays.
c) The remaining 30% concerns complaints about the National Enforcement Bodies, baggage handling, service by airlines and other issues.
8. The Commission will report to the European Parliament and the Council on
the functioning of the Regulation by 1 January 2007 and will propose, if
necessary, new legislative initiatives.