Opposition to plans for a ‘flight-plus’ Atol to extend consumer protection to retailers threaten to derail industry hopes of a wider extension of the scheme to airlines.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is increasingly concerned ministers may walk away from the Atol reform process if industry responses to a Department for Transport (DfT) consultation, due out in the next fortnight, suggest companies will seek to avoid the regulations.
According to one industry source: “We are on the verge of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”
CAA consumer protection group deputy director David Moesli said: “People need to understand there is a process going on and that this reform is the first step.”
Recent industry forums have seen a series of attacks on the proposals, including from within Abta, and suggestions of wholesale avoidance through the restructuring of businesses. This has come against a background of broad agreement on the need to extend protection to scheduled airlines – a demand reflected in Travel Weekly’s ‘Make every seat safe’ campaign.
Moesli said: “It’s clear the trade has a big interest in airlines coming in [to Atol protection]. If the trade goes cool on flight plus, there is a danger the government might not explore whether primary legislation could incorporate airlines.”
He pointed out transport minister Theresa Villiers “recently made clear her department is going to consider this”. “If the trade sounds cool on flight plus, will the government bother with the primary legislation? From the government’s point of view, why bring all the airlines in if the industry goes out of its way to avoid looking after consumers?”
The CAA hopes for a healthy response to the consultation, but some in the industry have suggested this offers a final opportunity to voice opposition. Moesli said: “The proposals came from the trade and the government sees them as a first step to clarity for the consumer.
“I would be surprised if the trade wants to give a cool response. We hope people read the consultation document carefully, engage with it and make it work. Ministers would not normally put a lot of sweat and tears into something it sees as a ‘sticking plaster’.”
Both Villiers and DfT head of aviation policy implementation Kate Jennings have recently described flight plus in this way. Moesli added: “There is a danger of people saying the consultation does not go far enough when they don’t know what is in it.”
A senior industry source agreed, saying: “The government would not want to hear that everyone will be looking at ways around flight plus. If this works and leads to the Air Travel Trust fund being paid off, the government could be open to all kinds of possibilities to change the system of protection. But ministers could lose interest.”
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