There is a growing risk Atol reform will be delayed until 2012, leaving the trade and consumers to deal with the current confusion for up to two more years.
Hopes that an expanded scheme would be in place by October 2011 appear set to be dashed, with sources close to the process suggesting the timetable is now so tight as to make it impossible.
Only last week Abta expressed hope the Department for Transport would announce the long-awaited details of reform next week.
But Travel Weekly understands transport secretary Philip Hammond may not sign off the reform – involving introduction of a ‘flight-plus’ Atol – until mid-December, leading to an announcement in January.
That would trigger a 12-week consultation with the industry lasting until April or May, when the changes would then be drafted. However, the proposed reform of the Atol regulations would have to be laid out in a statement to Parliament before the summer recess to be in time for the October 2011 Atol renewal.
Sources believe this schedule is tight, making April 2012 a more likely date for its introduction.
Abta president John McEwan conceded the trade could face a further two summers of uncertainty. He said: “That would be frustrating. But the objective remains the same – to create a level playing field. We continue to talk to the DfT about bringing the airlines in [to the Atol scheme]. There is no point having more heavy regulation if airlines sit outside.”
McEwan told Abta’s 60th birthday celebration on Wednesday: “The image of stranded and out-of-pocket customers is damaging to our industry. Let’s hope we shall soon be in a position whereby whatever we sell we can reassure customers their money is not at risk.”