By Marcus Leach
New powers which will put passengers at the heart of how the UK's major airports are run have begun their passage through Parliament.
The Civil Aviation Bill - which had its first reading in Parliament on Thursday - will replace the current economic regulation duties of the aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), with a single primary duty to promote the interests of passengers.
The Bill will also give the CAA more flexibility to set performance measures at major airports, encourage investment in improvements and provide passengers and other airport users - such as those sending cargo by air - with more information about airline and airport performance.
"The powers in this Bill will put the needs of passengers clearly and unambiguously at the heart of how our major airports are run," Aviation Minister Theresa Villiers said.
"They will help promote better public information about airline and airport performance and give the CAA more power to tackle the issues which matter to passengers. Under the new rules, the CAA will be able to intervene much more quickly when an airport is failing passengers, for example on winter preparedness.
"The end result of these reforms will be a modern regulatory regime for our airports which is flexible, proportionate, targeted and effective, while unnecessary regulation and unnecessary intervention by central Government will be removed."
Much of the legislation surrounding aviation dates back to the 1980s; airlines and airports have welcomed the Government’s intent to update it. The Bill is designed to modernise the key elements of how the industry is regulated and contribute to economic growth.
The Bill also proposes that the costs of regulating aviation security should be covered by the aviation industry as happens with safety regulation. This will involve conferring certain aviation security functions, such as monitoring and enforcement, on the CAA which charges the industry for its activities. However, the responsibility for setting aviation security policy and making aviation security directions to the industry will remain with the Secretary of State for Transport. It is estimated that this move could save UK taxpayers over £4m a year.
The Civil Aviation Bill also contains a clause which could enable the Secretary of State to make long-term changes to the ATOL holiday protection scheme. The clause provides the option to include holidays sold by airlines, which are currently exempt from the scheme, in the ATOL scheme. It also provides the power to bring holidays arranged on an 'agent for the consumer' basis into ATOL protection. Subject to Parliamentary process, the Government would carry out a full consultation including an impact assessment on any regulations that could give effect to these powers. The Government will shortly make a full announcement on ATOL reform, which will set out its decisions on the options for near-term reform as consulted on in summer 2011.
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