Languages: German / English / French
The State Parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia recently decided to launch an airline passenger rights app. The new app is intended to promote consumer protection and help passengers to claim compensation easily via their mobile phones. It will be developed by the consumer advice centre and is expected to inform passengers of their rights, perform claim checks, offer suggestions on how and where to assert claims and actively support the process of claiming compensation.
Although aircraft repossession is used only as a last resort, it remains unfortunately inevitable in some cases. Under German law, there are no self-help rights available to owners in order to take possession of an aircraft. It is possible to obtain interim injunctions or arrest orders before the German courts; however, those require a substantial amount of time to prepare court documents, as the entitlement to the claim must be shown to be prima facie.
A recent European Court of Justice decision presents a major change of case law in Germany with regard to the applicability of EU Regulation 261/2004 to connecting flights departing from an airport situated outside an EU member state. The decision has countered the longstanding position of the Federal Court of Justice, which held that the applicability of the regulation to each flight should be examined separately, even if the flights were operated by the same airline and were booked together.
The Berlin Regional Court recently upheld the application of a private German association for the advancement of consumer rights, which claimed that a German air carrier's online booking system had violated EU Regulation 1008/2008. Following the dismissal of the appeal brought by the carrier before the Berlin Upper Regional Court, the airline lodged a remedy of review before the Federal Court of Justice, which stayed the proceedings and referred the case to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling.
As of February 1 2017 companies and entrepreneurs, including air carriers, must comply with new information duties with regard to alternative dispute resolution (ADR). While ADR participation is voluntary, a peculiarity applies for air carriers. According to the Air Traffic Act, airlines are obliged to participate in ADR. If an air carrier does not voluntarily join the private conciliation body, it must participate in the government ADR process.
Due to the fast-growing number of drone operations, the minister of transport recently announced the revision of the rules governing the use of civil drones in Germany. According to the minister, such use is not sufficiently regulated. The envisaged rules aim to reduce hazards in the airspace and on the ground, while new legislation is being drafted for commercial and private drone use.
It has been widely debated whether an air carrier is legally allowed to claim full payment of the ticket price from a passenger as early as at the time of the flight booking. The Federal Court of Justice recently decided on three cases brought by a consumer association against two domestic carriers. It held that a pre-payment clause would not present an unreasonable disadvantage to the passenger and would not be contrary to the fundamental principles of law.
Germany has recently transposed the EU Energy Efficiency Directive into national law. Affected airlines must undergo an energy audit by December 5 2015. For airlines operating flights to and from Germany, fuel consumption must be taken into account. Airlines which fail to carry out or perform an energy audit (or which do not conduct it properly, completely or in time) may be fined up to €50,000.
The Frankfurt Regional Court recently dismissed a claim on grounds of inadmissibility. The German plaintiff booked flights with a non-European airline with a local office in Frankfurt via the German-language pages of the airline's international website. The court clarified that the German version of an international website does not create the impression that a contract has been necessarily concluded with the local office.
The Constitutional Court's first senate recently heard a case on the constitutionality of the Air Traffic Tax Act. The purpose of the air traffic tax is to generate €1 billion of revenue annually to create a steering effect towards more environmentally friendly behaviour in the aviation industry. The court admitted that the tax presents a financial burden to airlines. However, this is not enough to regard the act as unconstitutional.
In a recent case, the Federal Court argued that EU Regulation 1008/2008 does not specify an exact time when the final price of air services must be indicated when booking on a computerised booking system. The regulation aims to enable consumers to effectively compare prices of different air carriers. The provision is meant to guarantee information and transparency and strengthen consumer protection.
The Federal Court of Justice has held that passengers of a delayed feeder flight which falls within the scope of Article 3 of EU Regulation 261/2004 are entitled to compensation if the delay causes them to miss their connecting flight and results in them reaching their final destination with a delay of three hours or more. This applies regardless of whether the connecting flight falls within the scope of the regulation or was delayed.
The Federal Court of Justice recently held that passengers were not entitled to compensation if the delay occurred on a connecting flight departing outside EU territory. The court stated that the meaning of the term 'flight' could not be determined by national air law, but was defined autonomously by EU Regulation 261/2004.
The federal state of Bavaria recently brought forward a motion aiming to abolish the Air Traffic Tax Act by Autumn 2013. The motion was approved by the Federal Council; as a result, the government has been requested to initiate a legislative procedure regarding the abolishment of the act.
The Federal Finance Court has ruled that the mineral oil tax exemption may be granted to air carriers only. However, it did not address the potential overlap of the EU Energy Taxation Directive and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. As the exemption from the scheme for commercial air carriers does not apply to non-commercial operators (ie, undertakings with corporate aircraft), such operators will be charged twice.
In response to an inquiry initiated by Alliance 90/The Green Party, the government has revealed the latest statistics on the number of administrative fine proceedings and penalty notices imposed by the Federal Aviation Office (LBA). In 2011 the LBA initiated more proceedings than ever before; particularly significant is the increase for German air carriers. The number of penalty notices has also increased drastically.
The Federal Administrative Court has announced its long-awaited decision on the night curfew at Frankfurt International Airport. The court mainly affirmed the first instance ruling by prohibiting exceptions to the night curfew during the core night hours of 11:00pm to 5:00am. While the court's ruling ends the long-running conflict, the economic consequences for Frankfurt and the Rhine-Main region could be severe.
The forthcoming air traffic tax cuts represent a good opportunity to even out the playing field for German airports and passengers. However, in light of the imminent inclusion of aviation in the European Emissions Trading Scheme, the German legislature would be well advised to consider abandoning the tax all together.