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Government’s Aviation response is cold comfort for travellers, says Transport Committee

11 July 2022

The Government’s response to the Transport Committee’s report on aviation is a missed opportunity for the protection of consumers and the industry as a whole, says the Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman MP.

The Committee also labels the failure to prepare for the prospect of future pandemics through transparent and predictable systems as disappointing.  

The Committee’s report, UK Aviation: reform for take-off, recommended action across international travel restrictions, consumer rights, domestic air connectivity, sustainable aviation, airport slots, Heathrow price control review and action to combat the summer airport disruption. 

Calls to give the regulator more upfront powers so it can better protect passenger flights and rights have been ‘noted’ but no update offered on when the Government might deliver. The committee’s recommendations included the urgent ability to impose financial penalties on airlines that do not provide complete refunds when they are required to do so, by law. The Committee’s call to introduce a mechanism to grant automatic compensation for airline passengers has simply been ‘noted,’ which could be interpreted as dampening expectations.

Chair's comments

The Chair of the Transport Committee, Huw Merriman MP, said:  

“The pandemic highlighted several holes in consumer rights around travel but today’s disappointing response will not offer any comfort for travellers. This response is poor on consumer rights, poor on refunds, poor on progress on airline insolvency reform and poor on preparation for future health crises. 

Recommendations to provide peace of mind and consumer redress for travellers have been rejected. The regulator has to apply to court to get compensation redress for passengers. It cannot be right, for industry and consumer, that the regulator is still in court four years on from a series of flight cancellations. In other countries, the compensation would have been immediate.

Specific measures to protect the industry from future pandemics, and allow it more transparency and involvement in decision-making on restrictions, have not been endorsed. It’s difficult to expect the industry to expand and take financial risks if it has no comfort that it could be placed into restrictive measures again. The industry deserves more certainty.”

The Government has moved on some of our other recommendations. There have been steps to alleviate the pressure to use slots. Heathrow Airport has been ordered to cut passenger charges each year until 2026. Many of our recommendations to make it faster for the industry to recruit and onboard staff have been accepted. This should reduce the number of flight cancellations. However, there is still work to do and if the regulator was given up-front powers we would see a more cohesive approach compared to leaving decisions to individual airlines and airports.” 

In particular, the Committee notes these responses: 

On consumer rights: 

  • Airline Insolvency Bill: the response does not commit to introducing a Bill and the Queen’s Speech did not include one, although provision had been made in a previous Queen’s Speech (December 2019). A full response to the recommendations of the Airline Insolvency Review is still pending. The Aviation Passenger Charter is given no timescale (also outstanding from the Aviation 2050 consultation in 2018). 
  • Civil Aviation Authority: The Committee’s recommendations are noted but there is no update on powers to impose financial penalties on airlines that do not provide complete refunds to consumers or powers to pursue enforcement orders to tackle infringements of consumer rights in relation to refunds. There is no news of how or when the Government plans to respond to the consultation on CAA powers. 
  • A mechanism to introduce automatic compensation for airline passengers has been ‘noted’ 
  • The Government rejects the recommendation to assess the private Covid testing market for travel. There is no clarity on whether the Government will implement recommendations from the Competition and Markets Authority for regulating the PCR travel testing market, endorsed by the Transport Committee.  

International travel restrictions: 

  • Although the Government states that it agrees that international travel must be built into future pandemic resilience planning, it appears to reject the premise that a system able to cope with future crises can be ‘predictable’. 
  • The Government does not accept or comment on important elements of the recommendations made by the Committee for an “international travel toolkit,” such as making the advice and analysis for decision-making publicly available, seeking agreement with an equal voice for Department for Transport and Department for Health and Social Care, or allowing for compensation to the industry for economic loss should restrictions apply only to international travel. It does not allow for formal representations from the affected sectors. 

Domestic air connectivity 

  • The Government says it plans to respond to the Union Connectivity Review’s recommendations on Public Service Obligations later in 2022 but argues that it is for relevant local authorities to identify routes that may require a PSO; the Committee had recommended that central Government agree which routes should be funded. 
  • Air Passenger Duty: Today’s response does not engage with the argument that some domestic routes may need support before a new system is introduced on April 1, 2023. 

Sustainable aviation:  

  • The response does not engage with the Committee’s arguments for the importance of airspace modernisation in decarbonisation efforts. 
  • The response acknowledges the powers of the Civil Aviation Authority in developing and achieving the Jet Zero Strategy but does not suggest amending its powers to enable the regulator to enforce environmental mandates. 

UK aviation: reform for take-off was published on April 20, 2022. The full list of conclusions and recommendations begins on page 46.

Further information

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