ASH CLOUD: EC could offer compensation to airlines affected

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Airlines could be in line for compensation from the European Commission to cover losses incurred as a result of flight disruptions caused by the volcanic ash cloud.

The compensation package would be similar to that which was made available to airlines following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.

A spokeswoman for the Commission's competition bureau says that "similar compatibility criteria" to those set out in 2001 for airlines seeking compensation for the disruption to services in the aftermath of the US terror attacks could apply.

These criteria state that compensation will be awarded in a non-discriminatory way to all airline companies of a member state, and that compensation will be "limited to the real costs of the traffic interruption".

European Commission competition vice-president Joaquin Almunia, who is part of a group examining the economic impact of the ash cloud, said compensation guidance for member states could be "rapidly updated" as and when member states applied for aid. He adds that the EC would be able to "rapidly assess the requests".

An EC transport spokesman says each member state has to make an individual request for access to European funds, but that "so far there have been no requests".

It remains unclear whether there will be changes to the passenger rights rules in relation to the ash cloud.

These rules obligate airlines to cover the costs of feeding and accommodating passengers affected by delayed or cancelled flights and, as it currently stands, the ash cloud crisis is not treated as an exception.