The UK travel industry was just about emerging from the global banking crisis, only to be hit by the volcanic ash crisis.
The industry is used to coping with almost anything that’s thrown at it. In recent years it has coped with hurricanes, terrorism and striking French and Spanish air traffic controllers. But the next challenge will come from the European Union.
EU transport ministers, MEPs, officials and experts from the European Commission, European Aviation Safety Agency (Easa) and the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol) have all been debating the crisis.
They have concluded that the answer is an expanded role for European regulators. The EC president has set up a committee to draft fresh legislative proposals.
We are likely to see a push for more European regulations for the travel sector, in particular a greater role for Easa and Eurocontrol – speeding up the Single European Sky project – a toughened Air Passenger Rights Regulation, and an updated Package Travel Directive.
They may also create a fund to pay out compensation from taxation, a passenger levy or insurance.
It is essential that the British travel industry does not sit this one out. A few years ago I was part of the small team of MEPs and ministers that negotiated the most recent Air Passenger Rights Regulation. The travel industry and government largely sat on the sidelines on that occasion.
To avoid a knee-jerk response from the EU this time, the travel industry needs to lead from the front. I believe it should campaign for three things.
First, a proper contingency plan ready for the next crisis. This should seek to co-ordinate the key players without adding to cost or bureaucracy.
Second, bringing the Package Travel Directive into the internet era and, for example, creating a level playing field between traditional and dynamic travel packages.
Third, regulations that ensure stranded passengers are protected in cases of force majeure, but that do not mean the financial burden falls disproportionately on tour operators or airlines.
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