Government business plan deadlines for Atol reform published today indicate it could be looking to press for primary legislation to bring airlines into the regulatory regime.

Abta has said it will be looking for clarification on the business plan schedule for the Departments of Transport, Culture Media and Sport and the Treasury.

Although the timeline includes a date of April 2013 for the conclusion of Atol reform Abta said the small print suggested this later than expected conclusion was to give time for primary legislation to be passed.

In the mean time Abta expects the government to get on with other parts of the proposed reform like ‘flight-plus’ that will expand the scope of the current Atol scheme but only need secondary legislation.

Abta head of public affairs Luke Pollard said: “The 2013 date for conclusion of the Atol reform process is a long time away but this could actually be good news for the sector.

“Abta is expecting the new Atol proposals to be published within the next few months with a view to introducing additional protection possibly as soon as next year.

“The 2013 date reveals the government is considering primary legislation to complete the Atol reforms which would be necessary if, for instance, scheduled airlines are to be included in a protection regime.

“It is still our understanding that the main Atol proposals will be published by Christmas and that is where we will continue to focus.”

Other timelines revealed today include the new Tourism Strategy, which has been delayed three months to January 2011 and on which Abta has been lobbying to include the outbound sector and APD reform.

The latter is due to be announced by the Treasury on March 2011, the government having indicated it prefers to move to a per plane, rather than the existing per passenger arrangement.

Pollard added: “We’ve been expecting details of whether the government will proceed with their plans for a per plane duty to be published at the Budget in March, and this timetable seems to confirm this thinking. 

“We will be using the time between now and March to focus attention on the benefits of a per plane duty and  hugely negative impacts of hiking APD on our industry, destinations and the attractiveness of the UK as a place to invest.”

Although charter and lowcost airlines are in favour of a per plane APD due to their higher load factors and more efficient fleets, BA remains opposed to it, although all agree that the level of APD, that rose for the second successive year on November 1, is a concern.

Pollard said the delay to the Tourism Plan was an opportunity for the outbound industry. “DCMS’ business plan does not reveal any focus on outbound tourism but the delay gives every business in our sector the chance to impress upon the Tourism Minister that his strategy needs to include domestic, inbound and outbound tourism and not just a focus on British seaside towns.

“The business plans are a wake up call to the sector. Change is coming; the only question is whether you’re involved in shaping it. Abta certainly is.”

Pollard has also recorded a video comment available on the ABTA website.