ERA Highlights Passenger Rights and State Aid as Hot Issues

 - September 9, 2013, 10:05 AM
ERA director general Simon McNamara leads the fight to ensure that proposed changes to European Union rules on passenger rights and state aid do not disadvantage regional airlines. (Photo: Ian Sheppard)

The European Regions Airline Association is preparing for a winter of intense lobbying as politicians in Brussels return to their desks this month. The ERA’s new director general, Simon McNamara, has identified new passenger rights rules, airport capacity shortages and constraints on state aid for airlines and airports as the main battleground issues the association hopes to resolve before the European Parliament elections in May next year and the subsequent appointment of new leadership at the European Commission (EC).

The most immediate concern for ERA members centers on one of the provisions proposed by the EC in its efforts to replace the existing passenger rights regulation, 261/2004. The proposal calls for airlines to assume liability for costs of up to around $800 in situations where one of their passengers misses a long-haul connection due to a flight delay. However, the rule change might result in some positive changes for regional airlines, such as the introduction of a time limit on their duty to provide care and assistance for passengers and a more precise definition of the “extraordinary circumstances” that would exempt airlines from paying compensation for flight cancellations or delays. The 2011 volcanic ash cloud crisis that resulted in thousands of cancelled flights prompted calls for reforming the regulation and led to controversy over the degree to which airlines should assume liability for compensation claims.

McNamara told AIN that airport capacity continues to inhibit air transport growth in Europe. The situation would have proved worse, in his opinion, if the ERA had not defeated EC proposals to reform slot-allocation rules in a way that could have forced regional carriers out of hub airports. He accused European officials of having “wasted 24 months arguing about slots” when they could have concentrated on plans for new runways.

The ERA faces a September 25 deadline to finalize its response to EC proposals to restrict state aid for European Union airports and airlines. “The EC is saying that state aid is bad,” said McNamara. “But we’re saying it’s an important part of supporting regional economies.” The association advocates what it portrays as a “fair and equitable” basis for state aid that would avoid favoring some airlines at the expense of others.

A full interview with ERA director general Simon McNamara will appear in the October edition of Aviation International News.