News in brief from around the world… Virgin Atlantic has withdrawn its request for troubled Cypriot carrier Cobalt’s ATL to be reinstated and the Italian competition authority has opened a probe into Ryanair and Wizz Air baggage policies. Japanese lawmakers meanwhile are looking into tighter controls on pilot drinking and US trade group Airlines for America has appointed a new general counsel.
⇒ Cypriot airline Cobalt Air’s air transport licence has been suspended for a second time after UK airline Virgin Atlantic withdrew its “unilateral request” for the licence to be reinstated until the airline’s case was “properly adjudicated” in court.
Virgin, which had leased London Heathrow slots to Cobalt and was in danger of losing them given the cancellation of Cobalt's operating licences, withdrew its legal bid on 5 November according to the Cyprus Mail.
Cobalt Air said on 17 October that it would suspend its operations indefinitely, warning passengers that “future flights or services provided by Cobalt will be cancelled and will no longer operate”. The Cyprus’ Air Transport Licensing Authority decided to revoke Cobalt Air’s operating licence after the airline recorded annual losses of €30 million over the ast three years.
The airline instructed passengers with booked tickets not to go to any departure airports as “no Cobalt flights will operate and no Cobalt staff will be present”, before advising them to contact their credit card provider or travel agent concerning refunds.
The Cypriot ministry of transport, communications and works told passengers that were due to fly on 17 or 18 October on cancelled Cobalt flights to “secure a single one-way Economy Class ticket for their repatriation” and “present the evidence of their booking” to the ministry. It stressed that the arrangements did not absolve Cobalt of any liability to their passengers and that it was not acting under any legal obligations.
⇒ The Italian Competition Authority (ICA) said on 31 October that it had temporarily suspended a new cabin baggage policy at European budget airlines Ryanair and Wizz Air. Reuters reported yesterday that the regulator had formally opened an investigation.
Ryanair first announced the policy, under which non-priority customers are only allowed one small carry-on bag and only priority customers are allowed two, in late August this year. Wizz Air followed suit with an announcement on 10 October, telling customers that the policy would “contribute to a more comfortable and quicker boarding, a better customer experience and at the same time enhance the airline’s on time departure performance”.
According to the ICA, which considers hand luggage an “essential element in the air transport contract”, the policy “misleads consumers with regard to the actual price of the ticket and distorts comparison with prices applied by other companies” by requiring a “surcharge” outside of the standard ticket price for a second cabin bag.
The ICA said the airlines would have five days from the announcement to inform the authority of “measures they will have adopted to comply” with its decision.
"We will immediately appeal this decision,” a Ryanair spokeswoman told ALN. “There is no basis for a competition authority to issue a decision that relates to air safety or punctuality.” A spokesperson for Wizz Air told ALN that the airline is reviewing the ICA’s decision “in detail” but that it believes the new policy is “transparent and fair-for-all” as it “offers the widest selection of baggage choices” for customers and “ free cabin baggage for every passenger”.
⇒ In a letter to the British Department for Transport (DfT) on 28 September, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has called on London’s Heathrow Airport to “decisively and urgently” address concerns over timetables and spending on the project to build a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport.
The agency expressed concerns regarding a “lack of high quality and comprehensive information” on costs and efficiency provided to the airline community by Heathrow, which it said had not been “adequately” addressed despite “repeated requests” from both airlines and the CAA.
The authority warned that if the airport did not improve the flow of information, it would consider possible regulatory action including a formal information request under section 50 of the UK’s Civil Aviation Act 2012 and the development of additional licence obligations requiring the provision of “further detailed information”.
The CAA also said that the airport should demonstrate to stakeholders that a new timetable for the expansion is “realistic, achievable and allows sufficient time for high quality engagement while ensuring timely delivery”, after Heathrow announced changes to its overall schedule and a slight delay in the planned 2019 launch of its statutory consultation on the plans.
“We continue to engage with all of our stakeholders on our expansion plans and look forward to presenting a detailed preferred masterplan for further public consultation next year,” a Heathrow spokesperson told ALN. “We remain on track to submit a planning application in 2020 and for the new runway to open in 2026.”
⇒ Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism will set up an expert panel later this month to look into tightening drinking rules for aircraft staff following the arrest of Japan Airlines pilot Katsutoshi Jitsukawa in London last month.
Jitsukawa failed a breath test and admitted he was more than nine times over the legal alcohol limit prior to a flight.
In a press conference on 2 November, Minister Keiichi Ishii also told reporters he had instructed Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways to report on measures already in place to prevent heavy drinking by airline employees by 16 November, according to The Japan Times.
The panel is set to hold its first meeting in mid-November to consider mandating alcohol checks for aviation staff and establishing limits on alcohol concentration levels in their system, and is expected to compile a draft report on the alcohol consumption limit for pilots by the end of the year before discussing rules for flight attendants and aircraft mechanics, the paper reported.
⇒ US trade association Airlines for America (A4A) announced on 31 October it had promoted former associate general counsel Doug Mullen, to vice president and deputy counsel.
According to A4A, Mullen’s new role will see him continue to advance the lobbying group’s agenda by “advocating before US federal agencies and foreign regulatory bodies to ensure that legislative decisions and regulatory policies strengthen the aviation industry while maintaining the highest level of safety”.
Mullen previously served as legal counsel to A4A’s member airlines on a range of regulatory issues at international, federal, state and local levels, including matters regarding safety and operations; airports; drug and alcohol testing; accommodations for passengers with disabilities; cargo operations; and pilot qualification, training and certification.
“During his tenure at A4A, he has earned the highest respect of our member carriers and the trust of relevant agencies that work with the aviation industry,” Patricia Vercelli – who joined the group in September this year – said in a statement.