MPs want to give aviation watchdog ‘more teeth’ to support passengers

The Civil Aviation Authority should be given stronger powers to fine airlines that do not refund customers when required, says a committee of MPs.

There must be a mechanism to ensure that when entitled to a refund by law, airline passengers are granted automatic compensation, eliminating the need for customers manually to apply for a refund.

The politicians also said the government must introduce an Airline Insolvency Bill in the next session of Parliament “to set out a framework to handle future airline insolvencies to protect the interests of consumers, employees and taxpayers”.

The recommendations come in a report by the commons transport committee which also warns that international travel must not be singled out in future pandemic restrictions.

Called UK aviation: reform for take-off, the report urges the government to “future-proof” the aviation sector and says the industry must be incorporated in future pandemic resilience planning “to provide travellers and the industry with predictability and transparency”.

The committee found the government’s Covid restrictions on air travel were disproportionate to the risks to public health and the decision-making process was not transparent or consistent, nor based on scientific consensus.

“The arbitrary nature of those restrictions left travellers struggling to secure refunds, to access affordable testing and to navigate the confusing ‘traffic light’ system,” says the report.

“The restrictions on international travel imposed severe economic costs on the aviation industry.”

Furthermore, a global taskforce promoting the standardisation of the remaining international travel requirements should be convened.

The MPs also urge the government to publish the aviation recovery plan “as a priority and no later than June 1, 2022”.

Commenting on the chaos at airports over the Easter holidays, the report is critical of government attempts to blame an aviation sector “decimated by restrictions and a lack of certainty offered by ministers”.

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Huw Merriman MP, transport committee chair, said government action during the pandemic was inconsistent.

“It left industry and passengers confused and unable to plan ahead. This resulted in a severe economic deficit for the aviation sector,” he commented.

“Ministers must get on with protecting the sector against future economic shocks and reassuring passengers that future restrictions will only be implemented in extreme circumstances.

“Legislation is urgently needed to give the industry more flexibility to recruit new staff for the summer, to give the regulator more teeth to intervene on behalf of consumers and to provide protection from airline insolvencies.”

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, welcomed the committee’s recommendation for the CAA to be given stronger powers.

“If the government wants to future-proof the aviation sector it must prioritise restoring trust in travel with reforms that deliver for consumers,” she said.

“Consumer trust took a battering during the pandemic as some airlines ignored their obligations on refunds and passengers struggled with confusing restrictions and a dysfunctional travel testing system.

“We have long called for the Civil Aviation Authority to be given the power to fine airlines directly, so operators can be held accountable when they flout the law.”

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, commented on Twitter that the report’s criticism of the government’s Covid travel restrictions were a “kick in the teeth for all the people and staff impacted by disproportionate shutdown of international travel”.

“Whilst this report is welcomed it only tell us what we already knew. Any recovery package needs to benefit the entire industry ecosystem for being hung out to dry,” she added.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, responded to the report, saying: “The government is about to publish an aviation strategy and we need it to focus ruthlessly on the areas where they can really make a difference, including setting the policy framework that will allow the sector to introduce and invest in sustainable aviation fuels at scale, and modernising the UK’s airspace as quickly as possible to further progress our net zero commitments.

“On so many of the government’s big set-piece policy ambitions – Global Britain, energy independence, investment in skills and the green jobs of the future – aviation can play its part, and begin the process of putting the past two years behind us.”

The Airport Operators’ Association commented on Twitter: “This is welcome recognition of the devastating pandemic impact on aviation as a result of ever-changing travel restrictions.

“Airports now need a comprehensive package to recover sustainably and prevent the UK from falling behind international competitors.”

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