Europe's controversial passenger rights rules are set to be modified, a move that has been welcomed by the Association of European Airlines (AEA). European transport commissioner Siim Kallas has announced that the European Commission will "open a dialogue with stakeholders" on the EU 261 legislation, with a new proposal to be brought forward in 2012.
The announcement was carefully balanced, promising measures both to strengthen the enforcement of passenger rights while "clarifying key issues such as limits for liability in case of extraordinary circumstances".
AEA general manager for infrastructure and environment Athar Hussain Khan says that while the group has received no indication as to whether the EC review will take a tougher or more lenient view of the regulations, it welcomes the revision.
"We know that the Commission has been receptive to the airlines' arguments and frustration, particularly in the light of what happened during the Icelandic volcanic ash incident and the snow disruption late last year, where we as airlines felt what happened was outside our control and liability," says Khan.
The AEA, which represents 36 European carriers, will be keen to provide input to the EC's inquiry process, he adds.
Kallas says: "Overall, EU passenger rights legislation has been a huge step forward, providing a 'safety net' for passengers, vastly reducing certain commercial practices and raising standards throughout the industry."
However, there remains room for improvement and Kallas warns that "the next big push will be to step up enforcement".
"The work will start now to effectively plug loopholes, strengthen provisions and clarify issues for passengers and industry where it is clear that after six years we need to adjust and fine tune."
In the short term, he adds, the EC will introduce measures to improve pan-European application of passengers' rights, including strengthening the mandate of national enforcement bodies to adopt common interpretation and enforcement of passenger rights.