Government efforts to claw back cash from the travel industry following the collapse of Monarch Airlines appear to have stalled, TTG understands.
Around 110,000 passengers were left stranded overseas when the embattled airline failed on October 2 last year, only 20% of whom had Atol protection.
The Department for Transport (DfT) and the CAA subsequently launched the largest peacetime repatriation programme in British history.
However, the DfT came under fire from the travel industry when it tried to reclaim costs from various “travel providers”, predominantly tour operators, as well as credit and debit card providers.
Both Aito and Abta were highly critical of the DfT, which tried to levy £250 per non-Atol passenger repatriated on the industry.
The annual Air Travel Trust fund (ATTF) report, issued last week, revealed the Monarch collapse cost the ATTF £16.3 million, which a spokesperson for the CAA confirmed was part of the £60 million repatriation bill, not in addition to it, meaning the majority of the burden still fell on the taxpayer.
A spokesperson for Abta said the association understood the DfT was still, even in recent weeks, liaising with credit card companies of customers who would have been without return flight arrangements to recoup costs.
However, Aito chairman Derek Moore said in terms of tour operators, the DfT had “quietly dropped” its pursuit.
“It certainly didn’t come up again,” Moore told TTG. “Everyone held their nerve and the government does seem to have given up. No Aito members were forced to pay up, although one or two did inadvertently.
“This all came during the Tory conference. The government felt it had to act. They told everyone they would bring them home and signed deals without consulting us, then tried to recoup some of the cost from us.
"All our members said the same thing - they could have done it for a lot less than £250 per person.”
Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, said he had seen “nothing to suggest any collection took place [from travel companies]”, adding this did not mean the DfT would try again.
“The last similar failure was XL Airways in 2008. At least two of my clients had customers repatriated and did not receive an invoice,” he said.
A DfT spokesperson said the government was committed to ensuring the burden of the Monarch operation was “shared between credit card operators and travel providers”, adding the department would report on its progress in due course.
ATTF chairman Michael Medlicott, writing to transport secretary Chris Grayling last week, said the government’s Monarch intervention “raised important policy questions concerning the wholesale repatriation of non-Atol protected passengers”.
“The trust has paid its ‘fair share’ of the cost of that operation and in that sense, trustees’ obligations under the trust deed have been met,” he said.
“But it is also true the CAA’s expert resources, built up over the years and largely funded by the trust, have been used for the benefit of non-Atol passengers.
“In that context, trustees fully support your decision to launch the independent Airline Insolvency Review, and trust its recommendations will lead to a more satisfactory framework for the benefit of both the government and consumers.”
The Abta spokesperson added: “We’ve been very clear in our discussions and meetings with the government and the CAA the political decision to repatriate all customers, whether their flight was protected or not, undermined existing protection schemes and was very expensive.”
Like the ATTF, Abta has was welcomed the Airline Insolvency Review, which issued its interim report earlier this month.