By Martin Banks - 16th April 2013
We are unconvinced that the legislation will not further undermine working conditions
MEPs are set to vote on controversial legislation on airport ground handling during a Strasbourg plenary session.
The vote on Tuesday on the so-called ground handling regulation is part of the 'better airport package' proposed by the commission which aims to strike a balanced opening of ground handling services at Europe's airports.
In its report, parliament's transport and tourism committee said that the new regulation, once adopted, will require a third ground handler for airports with more than 15 million passengers per year.
This will affect about seven out of the more than 400 airports in Europe.
The Greens have branded the revised proposal to further liberalise ground-handling services as "senseless" as it will only apply to very few airports.
A Greens spokesperson said, "Bad working conditions for ground-handlers undermine the quality of services, with unacceptable consequences on safety and security. We are unconvinced that the legislation will not further undermine working conditions and will be voting against the re-tabled liberalisation plans."
The EU-wide body representing European airlines welcomed the new legislation although it voiced concern at amendments tabled by the committee.
Athar Husain Khan, acting secretary general of the association of European airlines (AEA), said, "The European aviation industry needs a level playing field with decreased costs and increased service levels and a more liberalised value chain.
"We therefore call on MEPs to facilitate the gradual opening of the ground handling market."
However, the association said that "whereas the commission's proposal will strengthen the position of European hubs, the amendments proposed by parliament will lead to the contrary."
The AEA says, "Unfortunately, these amendments will result in additional operational and financial burdens on European airlines and protect inefficient and state-owned ground handling service providers.
"Moreover, the proposals on social security of ground handling staff will discourage new actors to enter the market. Due to the proposed 'transition period', third handlers will not be able to offer their services before 2019. These implications are unacceptable."
At the same time, MEPs will vote on commission proposals which aim to increase the rights of air passengers when facing delays.
The plans would allow any passenger to disembark a plane if delayed on the tarmac for more than five hours, with a full refund.
They would also make it a legal requirement for airlines to provide information on airport delays or cancellations no more than 30 minutes after the scheduled time. Airlines would also be required to operate a complaints procedure that acknowledges receipt of a complaint within a week and formally responds within two months.
Conversely, current proposals that require airlines to compensate passengers after a three-hour delay will be increased to five hours for short-haul flights and nine hours for long-haul ones, because the current rules encourage airlines to cancel a flight and pay the compensation, rather than try to resolve potential problems and operate the flight.
The plans have been welcomed by parliament's European Conservatives and Reformists group transport spokesman Roberts Zile, who said, "When flights are delayed, passengers want access to lots of information and support from the airline.
"EU rules have ensured this is the case but they should be adjusted to improve passengers' rights. The commission's proposal is a significant step in the right direction.
"At the same time, it is important that the commission proposals take away some unnecessary burden on the airline industry. It is sensible that airlines are encouraged to operate a flight rather than cancel it after a few hours."
He added, "The current regime encourages airlines to cancel the flight and pay compensation when most passengers just want to get to their destination, even if it takes a little longer."