Aeroplanes have around 6,000,000 working parts, which is an awful lot of mechanics and an awful lot of things that can go wrong.
In the UK we have some of the most stringent checks and our airlines have fantastic safety records on the whole – not withstanding the British Airways issue on the 24th of May 2013 where it seems they simply did not secure the cowling doors having done their maintenance checks.
Airlines are businesses ultimately. Their bottom line is the bottom line on their balance sheet and we should not criticise them for that. However, that becomes an issue when they run such a tight operation with so little wiggle room that just one defect causes problems. 6,000,000 parts is 6,000,000 chances for something to go wrong, irrespective of the checks that airlines routinely do. A flight having a technical defect is not an extraordinary circumstance and his was confirmed in the case of Friederike Wallenton-Hermann v Alitalia (Wallentin) where the ECJ ruled that:-
Because of their restrictions on running such tight fleets the airlines are effectively looking for a perfect day every single day of the week.
“The Court finds that in the light of the specific conditions in which carriage by air takes place and the degree of technological sophistication of aircraft, air carriers are confronted as a matter of course in the exercise of their activity with various technical problems to which the operation of those aircraft inevitably rise. The resolution of a technical problem caused by failure to maintain an aircraft must therefore be regarded as in inherent in the normal exercise of an air carrier’s activity.”
“The Court states that, since not all extraordinary circumstances confer exemption, the onus is on the party seeking to rely on them to establish that, even if it had deployed all its resources in terms of staff or equipment and the financial means at its disposal, it would clearly not have been able – unless it had made intolerable sacrifices in the light of the capacities of its undertaking at the relevant time – to prevent the extraordinary circumstances with which it was confronted from leading to the cancellation of the flight. The fact that an air carrier has complied with the minimum rules on maintenance of an aircraft cannot in itself suffice to establish that that carrier has taken all reasonable measures so that it is relieved of its obligation to pay compensation.”
If a computer breaks down at Bott and Co we don’t stop working. We have sufficient resources within our business to deal with this and fulfil our client expectations. Why can’t this be the case with airlines?
On that basis we can say that the interpretation of the Court is that aeroplanes break down. That is not extraordinary and neither is it a defence for an airline around a delay. Because of their restrictions on running such tight fleets the airlines are effectively looking for a perfect day every single day of the week – one single issue throws their schedule and leads to a number of delays. Think of it this way; if a computer breaks down here at Bott and Co we don’t stop working. We don’t stop issuing claims, helping our clients or writing to airlines. We have sufficient resources within our business to deal with this and fulfil our client expectations. Why can’t this be the case with airlines?
A perfect example reached us today of the impact one technical defect can have. If a plane cannot leave on time, it not only impacts on the passengers due to board that plane. There will be other passengers waiting to board the flight at the other end and those passengers will be flown to another destination where there will be other passengers waiting. And on and on it goes, because the airlines do not have capacity if a plane is down, nor do they have any scope to catch up running daily at such high capacity. It literally is no way to run a business.
On the 3rd of June, Thomas Cook had to delay flights because of a technical defect. The technical fault happened in Corfu and as such flight number TCX3229 which was supposed to fly to Glasgow Airport was delayed by over 7 hours. The plane was then to pick up 300 passengers to fly them to Dalaman, Turkey under flight number TCX3504 which was then delayed by more than 13 hours. This left 148 holidaymakers stranded whilst they waited to return home from Dalaman under flight number TCX3505. Because of one technical fault three separate flights were affected with delays of more than 7 hours and two separate delays of in excess of 13 hours. It’s likely over 500 passengers were affected by this.
Further technical information comes from EUclaim:
“Thomas Cook UK has only 2 B757-300 planes. These aircrafts cover the whole of Europe. Due to the fact this is a 274 seater it’s difficult to find replacement aircrafts and you need to search for 2 aircrafts to replace this B757-300. Thomas Cook does not have a logical fleet – too many different aircrafts of different sizes. Even aircrafts in their own fleet cannot replace each other. The other problem is no spare capacity – Thomas Cook UK, as well as a lot of other operators plan their flights consecutively. So any problem immediately affects subsequent flights.”
The remedy is simple – either more planes or better logistical planning. Flogging these planes day in, day out across Europe with little respite hoping that nothing goes wrong is doomed to failure, as shown by the amount of planes delayed. Thomas Cook do acknowledge this issue and have confirmed they are working on their fleet problem and that cannot come too soon for UK passengers.