Plan to give the Civil Aviation Authority the power to force airlines to pay reimbursements in the event of a pandemic has been removed

After promising stronger action against airlines that have failed to reimburse as they should, the government quietly suspended the plan.

In April, ministers pledged that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) would have more leverage to prosecute and penalize carriers who violate the rules on refunds.

In its second report from the Global Travel Taskforce in April 2021, the Department of Transportation (DfT) said it was committed to “reforming CAA’s enforcement powers over airlines that violate consumer rights.”

The report said the details would be included “in the strategic framework for the aviation sector to be released later this year.”

He said: “This will build on investigations by the Competition and Markets Authority into the practices of travel agents and airlines in reimbursing customers affected by travel restrictions during Covid-19.

But in a written response from Commons, Aviation Minister Robert Courts said: “Due to the significant impact the Covid-19 crisis has had on both our aviation industry and the CAA, we do not consider it appropriate at this time to examine the statutory obligations of the CAA in general.

Mr Courts was responding to a question from Ruth Cadbury MP to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps asking if he would reconsider the statutory obligations of the Civil Aviation Authority.

He added: “We will consider changes to the powers and duties of the CAA if necessary.”

In a report on refunds in July 2020, the authority reiterated its need for “stronger, more immediate powers of action to protect consumers’ rights” and outlined the challenges it faces: “We don’t we do not have the power to impose a financial penalty on a company or to ask them to put an end to a violation.

“Our enforcement powers are not well suited for swift action and it can take a considerable amount of time for a case to go to court. This leads to a period during which companies can continue to break the law without penalty.

“We have asked the government to improve its powers to ensure that we have a more flexible enforcement toolkit that allows us to more effectively deal with a wide range of compliance issues.”

At a Transport Select Committee hearing in March, CAA CEO Richard Moriarty said, “Our powers under the Enterprise Act are quite heavy and take a long time.

“Other sectoral regulators – Ofcom and Ofgem – have changed their powers in recent years. They have the opportunity to publicly declare that there has been a breach of the law.

“They can get a business to give up what it does and pay it back. They can, in fact, impose financial penalties on failing companies. We don’t have this toolkit, although I have to say we have very constructive conversations with government colleagues about improving our toolkit over time.

At the same meeting, Ryanair Managing Director Michael O’Leary said: “Everyone immediately received a voucher so that they at least know that they had not lost their money.

“If they didn’t want the travel voucher for future use, they could claim the refunds by directing a request to us.

“All of these refunds have been processed. Anyone who requested a refund had it processed. There is no backlog. “

If an airline cancels a flight, under EU air passenger rights rules, a full refund is due within one week.

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