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Clause 18 - Licence conditions

Part of Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:30 pm on 1st March 2012.

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Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Labour, North West Durham 1:30 pm, 1st March 2012

That is a really good point. It is a question not only of the airport but the access roads.

The Transport Committee recommended that

“airports be required to develop passenger welfare plans and to provide support to stranded passengers during periods of disruption”,

and was

“disappointed that those conditions were not included in the CAA’s draft licence and expect them to be taken into account when the CAA sets licence conditions.”

The lack of a specific requirement to publish passenger welfare plans is a major omission from the legislation, and amendment 19 seeks to address that.

My understanding is that the purpose of amendment 20 is to require the Minister to explain what provisions the Bill contains to provide assistance to passengers left stranded in airports due to severe weather and other disruptive events. The UK’s reputation was damaged by the scenes of thousands of stranded passengers in airports during the severe winter weather of Christmas 2010. As in the aftermath of the volcano eruption, I was contacted by several constituents trying to get back from airlines  the vast amounts of money they had been forced to spend while stranded. I am happy to give a direct example that caused huge distress in my family.

My parents would best be described as vulnerable but adventurous—sometimes too adventurous. My father is severely disabled. He could walk the length of the Committee Room with a stick, but we would tire of waiting for him to get there, and he has limited speech. My mother is physically able, but has limited sight. Between them, however, they do very well, and they get to all kinds of places. In June 2010, they went on a wonderful cruise in the Mediterranean. They returned to Barcelona ready to get a flight back to England, but they were caught by the volcanic ash eruption. They were stuck in Barcelona for five days. Apart from family, they were pretty much left to shift for themselves, which they did—they got to a hotel and so on. However, it took well over a year—with some strong family support—to get that money back from the airlines. People should not be left in those situations. It is important that all passengers receive decent service, but it is particularly important that the most vulnerable are not left to fend for themselves, and that they are at least able to recover the costs they are entitled to in reasonable time and without obstruction.

When unforeseen events occur, we see a lack of action, and there is almost paralysis in government. In the winter of 2010, the then Transport Secretary failed to intervene in co-ordinating the availability of snow-clearing equipment and de-icing fluid among airlines, in line with the independent Quarmby report. When he did act, however, it had a direct impact on constituencies such as mine, because he purloined—I think that is the best word—oil and grit from other parts of the country. Local authorities such as mine in Durham, which had properly planned, ordered and paid for salt for their roads, found their stocks being pinched in panic by the Government.