Tuesday, 25 November 2014

CJEU: Collision of an aircraft with a mobile staircase no “extraordinary circumstances” under Reg. 261/2004

The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) issued a Reasoned Order on the case C-394/14 Siewert et al., which clarified that a collision of an aircraft with a mobile passenger staircase (ramp stair) on the tarmac does not constitute ‘extraordinary circumstances’, which exonerate the air carrier from its duty to provide compensation for long delay under the Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 on passenger rights in the event of long delay, cancellation of flight and denied boarding.

The case was about a total flight delay of 6,5 hours in a flight from Antalya (Turkey) to Frankfurt am Main (Germany) operated by the German carrier Condor. The carrier denied compensation to passengers, evoking ‘extraordinary circumstances’, i.e. that the delay was due to aircraft damage caused by a collision with a ramp stair at Stuttgart airport. The damage made necessary the replacement of the aircraft that would conduct the flight.

The German County Court of Rüsselsheim requested a preliminary ruling, referring following questions to the CJEU:
‘1) Must the extraordinary circumstance within the meaning of Article 5(3) of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 1 relate directly to the booked flight?
2) If extraordinary circumstances which occur during earlier flights are also relevant to a later flight, must the reasonable measures to be taken by the operating air carrier, in accordance with Article 5(3) of the regulation, relate only to preventing the extraordinary circumstance or also to avoiding a long delay?
3) Are adverse actions by third parties acting on their own responsibility and to whom certain tasks that constitute part of the operation of an air carrier have been entrusted to be deemed to be extraordinary circumstances within the meaning of Article 5(3) of Regulation No 261/2004?
4) If the answer to Question 3 is in the affirmative, does the assessment of the situation depend on who (airline, airport operator etc.) entrusted the task(s) to the third party?’

The CJEU found unnecessary the answer to the first two questions, given that it has already ruled on these questions in other cases, implying mainly the judgments on the cases C-549/07 Wallentin-Hermann and C-294/10 Eglitis, Ratnieks. Hence, the Court issued a Reasoned Order under Art. 99 of its Rules of Procedure, instead of delivering a judgment.

To answer the third and fourth questions, the Court relied on its previous case law regarding the notion of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ as a reason to exempt the air carrier from its obligation to compensate passengers for delay or cancellation of a flight [Art. 5 (3) Reg. 261/2004]. Extraordinary circumstances are events beyond the carrier’s control, which could not have been avoided even if the carrier had taken all technically and economically reasonable measures. This provision introduces an exception to a general rule; thus, it is to be strictly interpreted.

Afterwards, the Court clarified that technical problems can be regarded as ‘extraordinary circumstances’, only if they are related to an event not inherent in the normal exercise of the air carrier’s activity and are beyond its actual control on account of their nature or origin. This does not include the case of a collision with a mobile staircase on the tarmac, because such staircases are widely used in the air transportation of passengers and air carriers are often confronted with the problems related with their use.  

Finally, the CJEU reminded that the duties of the carrier established in Reg. 261/2004 are without prejudice to its right to obtain redress against third parties that caused the delay, according to Art. 13 of the Regulation.

As a result, the CJEU found that events, such as in the present case, do not exempt the air carrier from its duty to compensate passengers.

The Reasoned Order is not available yet in English. Click here for the text in German and here for the text in French.

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