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Clause 18 - Licence conditions

Part of Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:45 pm on 1st March 2012.

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Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West 1:45 pm, 1st March 2012

I want to speak relatively briefly to amendments 19 and 20. As we have heard, the Transport Committee undertook the inquiry, “Keeping the UK moving: The impact on transport of the winter weather in December 2010”. That in-depth report looked at all elements of transport—not only aviation, but the road network and how transport links together—and recommended that passenger welfare should be at the heart of airport operations. It also agreed with the recommendation of the Begg report that Heathrow and other airports should develop welfare plans for passengers during disruption. The report stated:

“If airlines fail to meet their obligations to accommodate stranded passengers, airports should be prepared to step into the breach. We would support measures by which airport operators could reclaim the costs of providing support to stranded passengers from airlines which had not discharged their legal responsibilities and we recommend that the CAA investigate how this can be achieved.”

The Government responded:

“However, the legal responsibility to provide care and assistance to passengers remains that of airlines. It is important that any initiatives to bolster the provision of passenger welfare during periods of disruption, for instance through passenger welfare plans, do not create any uncertainty in this area.”

The Transport Committee welcomed the forthcoming Bill under which, the Government response said:

“The CAA would have a new primary duty that would put the interests of passengers unambiguously at the heart of the regulatory regime.”

It seems to me that the amendments are consistent both with what the Government have said previously about the Bill and with that in-depth report by the Transport Committee.

The reports, particularly the Begg report, on what happened to passengers at Heathrow during the winter disruption of December 2010 make alarming reading, even if one only looks at the headlines: 9,500 people were sleeping in the terminal; passengers were seeking refuge in subways; a lorry carrying blankets for passengers had to turn back on the M25 because the traffic conditions meant that it could not get there; and very few passengers were provided with water or refreshments. It was absolute chaos and confusion.

As the Begg report found:

“Confused and contradictory messages caused incorrect signals to go to airlines, to passengers, and from airlines to passengers”.

Passengers were given laptops to try and rebook their flights—the laptops were around the terminals—but as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham has suggested, some passengers clearly do not have the capacity to do that. There was a real lack of care and concern for passengers at that point.