Vice-President of the Commission, responsible for Transport
Update on the volcanic ash crisis
Statement to Press
Brussels, 23 April 2010
I wanted to update you on the situation, one week after Europe was hit by this unprecedented volcanic crisis.
First, the news on flights remains encouraging. For the second day in a row, we are expecting about 28,000 flights to take place in Europe. Europe’s airspace is getting back to normal operating capacity.
Second, I will present, next Tuesday, to the College of Commissioners, a roadmap on the follow-up to the crisis.
The paper I will present to the College will set out the first reflections on priority areas for short, medium and long-term action.
It will give a preliminary orientation on:
The European regulatory framework (what Europe should do)
The application of air passenger rights
The economic impact and response
The specific volcanic threat
Future crisis management
The paper will contain some preliminary analysis from the work that is being done by the ad hoc group of Commissioners, which I am leading, to look at the economic impact of the crisis with the assistance of Commissioner Almunia and Commissioner Rehn.
I will update you further on Tuesday after the discussion in the College.
Third, I want to start work already to fast-track the Single Skies package.
The absence of a single European regulator for air traffic control made it very difficult to respond to this crisis. We needed a fast, co-ordinated European response to a crisis. Instead, we had a fragmented patchwork of 27 national airspaces. Without a central regulator, Europe was operating with one hand tied behind its back. This an area where we need more Europe. We need a single European regulator for a single European sky.
The deadline for the Single Skies II package to come into force is January 2012.
I don’t think we can afford to wait that long.
In my discussion with Minister Blanco I have said that the European Commission is ready to step up to fast track most of its work this year. We will need the political support of EU Transport Ministers to make that a reality.
I hope, with the Spanish Presidency, we can have conclusions on this at the extra-ordinary Transport Council in May.
Fourth we need focused efforts to enforce passenger rights.
Thousands of passengers have faced days of flight disruption across Europe. They want to know what are their rights are. The answer is that if you turn up at an airport and your flight is cancelled:
You have the right to reimbursement (get the money for your ticket back) or to chose re-routing;
You have the right to care – that means food, drinks, accommodation as appropriate;
You have the right to information – there is an obligation for airlines to inform you about rights and flight schedules.
Even in these very exceptional circumstances basic air passenger rights apply –except the extra financial compensation that would apply in more normal circumstances. These rights are enforced at national level, by national authorities.
But I want to be very clear:
EU law must be respected. Airlines have legal obligations. Air passenger rights will be enforced by national authorities. This is not a voluntary scheme.
EU passenger rights apply to all airline companies. There are no discount passenger rights for discount airlines. All airlines have equal legal obligations under EU law.
My services are in daily contact with the national enforcement bodies in Member States. I will watch this situation very closely and the evidence will feed into our economic analysis of the situation.
Finally, I want to underline that we should avoid the blame game.
The decisions that were taken to close airspace were taken for the right reasons – safety. Faced with a major crisis, the first response of national authorities was correct in applying the safety procedures for the European region agreed under ICAO Guidelines (International Civil Aviation Organisation).
The worst of the crisis seems to be over. But there is a huge amount of work to be done in the short, medium and long term to deal with the impact of this crisis; as well as to look ahead to future crisis management.
I am pleased that, with the Spanish Presidency, we now have agreement for an extraordinary Transport Council on 4 May.
I will keep you updated as our work moves forwards.