Passenger Rights & Air Safety - A Commission Priority
European Commission - MEMO/06/293 18/07/2006
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Brussels, 18 July 2006
This memo recalls the initiatives taken by the European Union to protect air passenger rights and ensure high safety standards in aviation. A new element is that since 16th of July passengers have the right to be informed about the identity of the airline which will operate the flight(s) for which they have made a reservation.
The European Union has a vital role to play in protecting the interests of air passengers. Especially air travel is international by nature: thanks to the opening of the European air transport market, passengers may fly from one European Union country to another using an airline licensed in a third one. They are right in expecting the same level of protection wherever they go; and find it easier to obtain their rights if harmonised rather than based on a confusing mixture of national rules. Such harmonisation will also help airlines organise international services and compete on equal terms throughout the EU.
Already in the year 2000 the European Commission recommended a general policy on protection of air passengers. This had three elements: Community legislation to create or strengthen basic rights; an information campaign to make passengers aware of their existing rights; and voluntary initiatives by the aviation industry to improve service.
Although legislation on denied boarding caused by overbooking (a practice particularly resented by travellers) had already been adopted in 1991, the Commission, in 2001, decided to make a proposal to further strengthen passenger rights and to extend the scope of existing legislation, considered to be insufficient, to cover cancellations and, in part, long delays and non-scheduled as well as scheduled flights.
17 February 2005: An important date for air passengers
The greatest leap forward for air passenger rights came on 17 February 2005, when Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 of 11 February 2004, based on the above proposal and establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights entered into force.
This new piece of legislation has introduced significant improvements to the protection of air passengers’ rights in the European Union. Airlines now have to pay compensation for denied boarding (€ 250 for flights of less than 1 500 km, € 400 for flights of between 1 500 and 3 500 km and € 600 for flights of more than 3 500 km). Passengers will be compensated for late cancellation of their flight and will receive assistance in the event of long delays. However, there is no right to compensation for cancellation if the airline can provide evidence of extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided.
The legislation applies to all flights, including charters, operated by airlines licensed in the EU from or to a European airport and to any flight departing from the European Union. Detailed information can be found on the website of Energy and Transport DG.
Though the legality of several articles of the Regulation has been challenged in court by two airline associations, the European Court of Justice confirmed the validity of this important piece of legislation in its judgment of 10 January 2006.
On 17 February 2006 the first anniversary of the new passenger rights was celebrated (see IP/06/177) and the European Commission invited representatives of the National Enforcement Bodies to Brussels for a second meeting on the implementation of the legislation, thereby emphasizing the crucial role national authorities have to play in the protection of air passenger rights.
By January 2007, and in accordance with Article 17 of the Regulation, the Commission will submit a report to the European Parliament and the Council on the functioning of this legislation, accompanied with new proposals if necessary. To prepare the report a study was commissioned which will assess the need for complementary legislation.
Air safety: The list of airlines banned within the EU and inspection of third-country aircraft
As the safety of air transport is another key priority for the EU, legislation (Regulation (EC) No 2111/2005 of 14 December 2005) has been passed to establish common rules for keeping European airspace free from airlines and aircraft considered to be unsafe. A first Community list of airlines banned within the EU was published on 22 March 2006. As the Commission has the obligation to ensure that the list is kept up-to-date and to verify at least every three months whether it needs updating, a revised list was published on 20 June 2006.
Updating the list requires permanent vigilance of all parties involved, i.e. the Commission, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Member States. The latter have the obligation to enforce the operating bans within their territories. Additionally, Member States and EASA have the obligation to communicate all information to the Commission that may be relevant for updating the list. The criteria for doing so are transparent and strictly related to safety. In essence, they reflect verified evidence of serious safety deficiencies of the inspected air carrier, its ability or willingness to redress the identified safety deficiencies as well as the ability or willingness of the authority which exercises regulatory oversight of this air carrier to ensure that the identified deficiencies are properly addressed.
EASA: A proposal to certify third-country operators before they can operate in the EU
On 16 November 2005, the Commission adopted a proposal to extend EASA’s competencies to further areas of civil aviation safety: operational requirements for and oversight of all aircraft and aircraft operators flying into, within and out of the Community, as well as pilot licensing. The proposal is a first step in the expansion of EASA’s mission towards an ever higher and uniform level of safety in European skies and a full coverage of all aviation safety matters at a later stage. Work on the proposal in the European Parliament and the Council is progressing and EASA could see its wider mission adopted as early as mid-2007.
Air safety and the right to know
The rights air passengers have obtained so far are only one element in an ongoing strive for high quality travel. European Union legislation not only guarantees fair treatment in the event of air travel being disrupted by delays, cancellation or denied boarding but also gives passengers the right to be fully informed before they start their journey.
Chapter III of the Regulation on the establishment of the Community list of air carriers subject to an operating ban within the EU, gives passengers the right to be informed about the identity of the airline which will operate the flight(s) for which they have made a reservation.
This part of the Regulation entered into force on 16 July 2006.
It foresees the following: Firstly, upon reservation, the air carriage contractor has to inform the passenger of the identity of the operating airline and whenever the operating airline is changed after reservation, the contractor must, irrespective of the reason for the change, immediately take all appropriate steps to ensure that the passenger is informed of that change. In all cases, passengers must be informed at check-in at the latest. Secondly, the Regulation gives the right to reimbursement or re-routing if the operating airline notified to the passenger has been entered in the meantime on the EU list of unsafe airlines and therefore is subject to an operating ban.
By setting these rules, the Regulation aims to strike a balance between the need for increasing safety in air travel and the wish to grant sufficient flexibility to airlines and tour operators to continue their current commercial practice and thus be able to switch operating airlines at relatively short notice.
Passengers with reduced mobility
About 10 % of the population in the EU suffer from reduced mobility – mainly the disabled and the elderly. With a view to protect their rights, the European Union has adopted rules which apply when persons with reduced mobility travel by air. The aim is to give these persons effective and free-of-charge assistance in EU airports and opportunities for air travel comparable to those enjoyed by others when they board a flight departing from an airport in the European Union.
The Regulation adopted, which applies to all airlines operating in the European Union, covers three main areas: fair, non-discriminatory, treatment of people with reduced mobility, free-of-charge assistance in all airports located in the EU and on-board assistance. Following publication in the Official Journal of the EU, foreseen for the second half of July 2006, the provisions of this Regulation will apply progressively: