The government recently introduced additional measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of specific rules were introduced for the transport of airline passengers which must be complied with by airlines and airports to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Italy. The new rules will be in force until 17 May 2020, but they remain subject to extension or amendments in light of the continuously evolving scenario.
This article provides an overview of measures which the government has implemented over the past month to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic with regard to airports, air carriers, passenger claims and drones. As airlines have had to significantly reduce flights and many airports have been temporarily closed, the pandemic has had significant adverse effects for stakeholders at all levels.
The Supreme Court recently found that for gratuitous carriage not performed by an air transport undertaking, damage compensation rights do not expire within the two-year limitation period established by Article 35 of the Montreal Convention. In other words, when the relationship between parties is not regulated by a contract, the general principle of neminem laedere (ie, general duty of care) applies. As a result, the ordinary time-bar rules for liability in tort apply.
The Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) recently approved a new drone regulation which will ease the transition to the EU Basic Regulation. Although EU legislation has already outlined a clear picture of the rules that will be definitively operational in the next few years, ENAC's regulation aims to safeguard the prerogatives and rights acquired by operators in the period before the EU drone legislation enters into force.
The International Air Transportation Association (IATA) recently published a report on the Italian air transport market, focusing on the developments that would occur if more efficient conditions were introduced. According to IATA, civil aviation is competitive in terms of air transport support, but airport and passenger ticket taxes make Italy the seventh most expensive country at the continental level. This is having an adverse effect on Italy's attractiveness as a location for both business and tourism.
The Administrative Court of Lazio (TAR) recently upheld Wizz Air's challenge and cancelled fines that had been imposed by the Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) on the airline for its hand baggage policy. The policy provided that only a small piece of hand luggage to be stored under the seat was allowed on board flights free of charge, while a fee had to be paid for larger pieces of hand luggage.
Due to the continued increase in the number of commercial flights and the resulting growth of passenger compensation claims under the EU Flight Delay Compensation Regulation, Ryanair and Codacons (the largest Italian consumer association) recently signed a valuable partnership agreement which will see them cooperate to settle claims made under the regulation by Italian passengers through alternative dispute resolution.
The Administrative Supreme Court recently ruled on the operation of night-time flights for civil purposes over Italian national territory, issuing a milestone decision that put an end to a 20-year regulatory dispute. The decision means that Italian airports now have parity with those located in other EU member states and has removed the negative effect that the ban had had on competition.
The Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) was one of the first EU aviation authorities to develop national rules to regulate remote-piloted aircraft systems. Pending the EU Basic Regulation's implementation, ENAC has announced the adoption of interim measures and a revision of the existing Italian regulations to align the national legal framework with the implementing acts that the EU Commission will introduce.
The Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) recently ordered Irish carrier Ryanair and Hungarian carrier Wizz Air to suspend the implementation of a new hand baggage policy that would have charged passengers extra for bringing a standard-sized trolley on board flights. Both airlines successfully challenged the AGCM's decision before the Lazio Regional Administrative Court, which suspended the AGCM decisions by way of precautionary measures.
Alitalia is a leading Italian airline that has faced financial difficulties and related restructuring projects. Following the government's extension of the deadline for completion of the sale of Alitalia, three prospective investors have presented more structured offers. This run of offers represents a step forward in the sale of Alitalia's business, even if negotiations must still be carried out over the next few months.
The Rome Division of the Tax Commission recently ordered the full refund of debit notes issued by the Lazio region to a foreign carrier for payment of the tax on aircraft noise pursuant to Regional Law 2/2013. The Tax Commission stated that the carrier had not breached EU Directive 2002/30/EC. Accordingly, it cancelled the debit notes issued by the Lazio region to the foreign carrier and ordered a complete refund of the tax paid by the carrier under the tax on aircraft noise.
The most recent Italian case law has upheld the European Court of Justice's interpretation of EU Regulation 261/2004 in Wallentin-Hermann and Van der Lans by qualifying a hidden manufacturing defect as an 'extraordinary circumstance' under the meaning of Article 5(3) of the regulation and rejecting passenger claims for compensation under Article 7 of the regulation.
In a recent decree the Ministry for the Economic Development started the extraordinary administration procedure for Alitalia pursuant to Law 39/2004 and appointed commissioners to lead the company throughout the procedure. The main purpose of the extraordinary administration is to implement a recovery plan meant to preserve employment levels through the financial restructuring of the company, the sale of the business as a whole or the sale of the business, assets and contracts part by part.
The Competition Authority has often fined airlines for imposing limits on round-trip tickets which force passengers to take flights in the order listed on the original ticket (ie, the so-called 'no-show rule'). The Council of State recently found this rule to be lawful. However, to protect consumer rights, the rule must strike a balance between the commercial needs of airlines and consumer rights. This decision confirms the increased focus on consumer rights without neglecting the commercial needs of airlines.
Italian courts are facing an increase in judicial claims by debt collection companies for denied boarding and the cancellation and delay of flights pursuant to EU Regulation 261/2004. The claims are based on the assignment of passenger rights to compensation under the regulation. The increase in judicial claims has led to jurisdictional and legal entitlement issues which have been resolved by different Italian court approaches.
The Italian Civil Aviation Authority (ENAC) recently issued a circular regarding non-scheduled air transport services operated outside the European Union to and from Italian airports. ENAC's rules apply to EU carriers and extra-community carriers on the condition that their states of origin grant equal treatment to EU carriers and are in line with the Italian Navigation Code.
The Supreme Court recently changed its approach to the interpretation of the commercial relationship between airlines and ground-handling companies, with the main focus being the damages suffered by passengers as a consequence of the supply of handling services. The key point in this regard is whether a ground-handling company can be considered to be an auxiliary entity of the airline.
In the past few years the EU legal framework regarding airports has been highly revised, obliging the aviation authorities of member states to revise national regulations accordingly. The Italian implementation process is supervised by the Italian Civil Aviation Authority, which has developed a road map for ensuring the Italian airport system's compliance with the new EU rules by the December 31 2017 deadline.
The European Commission recently issued a formal notice to the government for failures in implementing the EU Airport Charges Directive. The commission contested the consultation procedure that aimed to regulate charges at five major Italian airports through contract agreements between airport management and the Italian Civil Aviation Authority. The government is working on its formal comments regarding the alleged non-compliance.