Developing liability issues in International air transportation

  • Developing liability issues in International air transportation

    Author: Dario Klasić

    Keywords: airline liability, passenger rights, Montreal Convention, Regulation (EC) 261/2004, accident, injury.

    Air travel is the safest method of travel. Nevertheless, despite the fact that there are very few accidents, they do happen. Consequently, this area of air law involves loads of complexities, especially taking into account that the terms “accident” and “injury” have no clearly defined legal meanings.

    In the last decade, despite the adoption of new standards, European legislation on air carriers’ liability seems to be behind the needs of both passengers and air carriers alike. Undoubtedly, there are huge potential exposures for airlines arising not only from possible individual crash accidents, but also from liability extended through the controversial Regulation (EC) 261/2004. The impressive number of passenger complaints filed for delays and cancellations and the conflicts in these matters, best illustrate the need for evolution in this field of air law.

    Although the Regulation (EC) 261/2004 was one of the most successful areas of EU action in the field of consumer protection and has contributed to the regulation of the internal market for aviation services, it has been severely criticized by the aviation industry: the obligations originally mentioned in its provisions, and in particular those subsequently extended by the EU Court of Justice, imposed serious financial burdens on air carriers, and still pose a challenging legal issue in the relationship between EU law and international standards, in particular the Montreal Convention, and its exclusive liability regulation.

    By pointing out relevant issues and challenging learning points deriving from several recent cases, the author discusses the legal status of airline liability, touching upon the concept of an “accident” and an “injury”, while drawing connections between EU and international law. The paper also aims at answering whether consumers in the EU have been given a fair level of protection, or are they “overprotected”, as some airlines often argue.

    Given the fact that it is possible to identify several other concerning areas of possible future airline liability, which could potentially lead to claims involving new high costs (e.g. damages caused by air pollutants in air conditioning systems, exposure to harmful radiation), the air carriers can certainly expect turbulent weather in the future.