Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Liability for natural disasters-EU acts but in a very European way.

Aviation Industry News reveals that the European Commission is to rewrite the rules about liability for airspace and airport closures under "extraordinary circumstances". They must have read AirnThere on 31st March.

However, having started with a good idea, they haven't quite grasped the real rationale for a change in the Eurolegislation. As they see it, the need is to redistribute the perceived liability to passengers in the event of disruption. This is based on the assumption that whatever happens to anyone there must be someone or some organisation at fault and to blame and that person or entity should pay. The purchaser thereby escapes any personal loss or even contribution.

The fact the EU refuses to accept is that in some situations nobody is to blame and the failure of things to go to plan is just life's tough luck. This refusal also suits the lawyers very nicely thankyou. To a reasonable person the reality is that rather than having to cough up around £3.5 billion for last year's governmentally created volcanic ash fiasco, the airlines' liability should have been nil other than the extension or refund of the tickets involved. The same applies in any extreme natural conditions be they snow at airports, high winds in highlands and islands, volcanos or tsunamis. It is not reasonable or fair to expect airport or airline operators to overinvest in seldom used people and equipment and it is unsafe to pressurise crews to fly conditions they see as potentially dangerous.

Rather therefore than seek to redistribute the misconceived liability and damages arising from it, the Commission and all governments should leave the subject well alone except in situations where negligence or deliberate under resourcing for normal operations is involved. Backside covering and wrong decision-making by government agencies should also be an exception and generate liability. In all other cases "user pays" should be the guiding principle. Airline passengers should simply obliged to take out their insurance against being stranded by acts of God, governments or nobody in particular. The Commission need look no further, spend no money on consultations or get further involved. They should just make it clear that insurance is a personal responsibility and costs arising from disruptions to (air)travel should normally be bore by the purchaser. The EU needs to get away from its cradle to pot mentality, take a sniff of fresh air, and and let the industry function on a simple rational basis.

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