In an appalling statement, the Department for Transport says adoption of the instrument enforcing rights of disabled passengers will be delayed.
EC 1107/2006, which came into force on 26 July 2008, laid down the rights of disabled passengers and passengers with reduced mobility traveling by air. Art 16 of the law states "Member States shall lay down rules on penalties applicable to infringements of this Regulation and shall take all the measures necessary to ensure that those rules are implemented."
With the sole exception of the UK, all EU countries adopted a system of civil penalties. The United Kingdom adopted a statutory instrument, S.I. 2007, No. 1895, granting the Civil Aviation Authority criminal enforcement powers.
On 7 November, during the debate on disabled access to aviation the Minister for Transport Norman Baker MP stated "The regulation [1107/2006] is fully supported by the UK Government and has applicability in UK law under a statutory instrument, S.I. 2007, No. 1895."
However, the Minister's optimistic view clashes with reality. When asked by Reduced Mobility Rights, Dame Deirdre Hutton, Chair of the Civil Aviation Authority painted a much different picture. "We do have enforcement powers, but these are limited to the ability to take a criminal prosecution. Unfortunately, [enforcement] powers are not very flexible or proportionate and make it difficult for us to take action."
On Tuesday, 4 December 2012, a spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority confirmed that, in spite of several hundred disabled passengers’ complaints since the act first came into force, the regulation has never been enforced.
"EC Regulation 1107/2006 is directly applicable, and the Civil Aviation Authority has criminal penalty powers to enforce the Regulation in the UK," a spokesperson for the Department for Transport told Reduced Mobility Rights on Tuesday. "The Department is currently considering supplementing these powers with additional civil sanctions, although this will be subject to the necessary parliamentary clearances being secured."
Implications of the DfT's statement are devastating. To date, the Civil Aviation Authority relies on aviation and airport industry self-compliance. However, it is unable to take action on behalf of disabled passengers who are denied access to services, or are humiliated and discriminated.
There is a way to determine the size of the problem at stake. Reduced Mobility Rights receives an average of 2 disabled passengers’ complaints per week. The Civil Aviation Authority received 50 complaints in the first 3 months since taking over complaint handling from the EHRC. Charities and other disability groups also receive a large number of passengers’ complaints. Operators agree that PRMs filing complaints are a minority of all disabled experiencing poor access in aviation.
Despite the massive human implications, and the fact that adoption of civil sanctions comes at zero cost for the taxpayer, the DfT has shown uncommon determination to ignore the problem for years. To better dodge calls to adopt civil sanctions, they have mastered the art of procrastinating by stating they are "considering the option".
"The Department for Transport (DfT) is currently in discussion with the CAA and is considering complementing those criminal penalties with appropriate civil sanctions," EU Commission Vice President and Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas told Reduced Mobility Rights in February 2012."The [EU] Commission is closely following this issue and is, like you, of the opinion that this is highly advisable in order to have full respect of the Regulation."
"The Consumer Council for Northern Ireland has explained to the Department of Transport that we believe a range of civil sanctions should be made available to the CAA to provide the CAA with a greater range of available powers and greater flexibility to apply the most appropriate enforcement action on a case by case basis," Aodhan O’Donnell, Director of Policy for the CCNI told Reduced Mobility Rights.
The status quo is clearly unacceptable. The government must recognize the problem and provide the Civil Aviation Authority with civil sanctions with haste.
Until changes are introduced the government will be de facto morally supportive of those who bully, humiliate and discriminate disabled passengers.
MPs and Lords of all parties have the moral obligation to maintain pressure on Downing Street until the necessary enforcement mechanism is delivered. Mainstream Media has the moral obligation to ensure public awareness on the issue.
Reduced Mobility Rights is set to start a series of actions, at Westminster and in Brussels. We also call on individual MPs and Lords, mainstream Media, disabled associations, Grassroots and campaigners to join the effort to assure enforceability of the rights of all disabled people and passengers with reduced mobility traveling by air.
About the author
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Reduced Mobility Rights, Roberto Castiglioni is an expert of PRM regulations and handling procedures, and has personal experience as travelling companion and carer of a passenger with reduced mobility.
Roberto is a member of ESAAG. Chaired by the Hon. David Blunkett MP, the Easyjet Special Assistance Advisory Group, ESAAG, provides Easyjet with strategic guidance and practical advice on the evolving needs of passengers requiring special assistance. Easyjet is the largest airline in the United Kingdom by number of passengers carried.