The government looks set to finally draw on the recommendations of the Airline Insolvency Review for wholesale reforms of airline insolvency legislation.
Following the collapse of Thomas Cook last month, and that of Monarch two years earlier, the government will seek to ensure in future airlines can use their own aircraft to repatriate their own stranded passengers in the event of an insolvency episode.
Ministers have come in for criticism in the wake of the Cook collapse for failing to act on the review’s recommendations in May, even if any subsequent reforms would have come too late to have made a difference to the Cook situation.
The CAA was once again required to embark on a massive repatriation exercise – Operation Matterhorn – when Cook failed to bring home around 150,000 passengers stranded overseas. The operation was around twice the size of the Monarch repatriation, and is expected to come at an eventual cost to the taxpayer of around £100 million.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has said he has spoken to the review’s chairman, Peter Bucks, to “draw on his expertise” with a view to bringing forward airline insolvency reforms “as quickly as possible”.
It is understood proposals could be tabled in Monday’s Queen’s Speech (14 October).
Bucks, speaking exclusively to TTG following the collapse of Cook, said a failure by ministers to act on the Airline Insolvency Review would become progressively less defensible, particularly if there were to be further airline insolvencies.
Bucks’ recommendations included developing an insolvency regime similar to that of Germany where failed airlines are allowed to use their own aircraft to repatriate their passengers, rather than respective Civil Aviation Authority of the country in which the airline is registered setting up, as it was described during the Cook repatriation, a “shadow airline” to bring passengers home.
The effect of the changes would, in essence, allow collapsed carriers to be placed in special administration allowing them to continue flying.
Speaking to the Press Association, as reported by The Guardian, Shapps said: “We’ve seen recently the huge impact airlines collapsing can have on passengers and staff.
“To bring over 140,000 Thomas Cook passengers home, the government and CAA worked together round the clock and, with the support of people across the globe, carried out the biggest peacetime repatriation exercise in UK history.
“I’m determined to bring in a better system to deal with similar situations in future, helping ensure passengers are protected and brought home quickly and safely.
“I’ve spoken with Peter Bucks, the chair of the Airline Insolvency Review, and plan to draw on his expertise and bring in airline insolvency reforms as quickly as possible.”
Bucks’ key reforms, besides allowing airlines to operate in special administration, include an approximately 50p levy on all air fares to cover the cost of bringing passengers home in the event of insolvency, irrespective of passengers’ coverage under the Atol scheme.
One of the major criticisms of the Monarch repatriation, now seen as a precedent after the same regime was implemented when Cook failed, was that the repatriation failed to distinguish between Atol-protected and non Atol-protected passengers, leading to many suggesting it had invalidated the scheme.