The aviation regulator should be handed the ability by government to fine airlines found to be flouting consumer rights laws.
An independent review concluded that granting extra powers to the Civil Aviation Authority will enable it to ensure that breaches “are addressed in a proportionate and timely manner”.
The government-instigated review said: “There was strong feedback from relevant stakeholders that, due to its current limited powers, the CAA are unable to effectively hold airlines to account.
“There was a view from some consumer groups and some airlines that the behaviour of a few is probably unlawful, and that the CAA relies on competition to address this rather than using its powers to at least ensure compliance with the law.”
It added that “ministerial consideration should be given to providing the CAA with additional powers to more effectively regulate – in the interest of consumers – where it considers that an aviation related business has breached consumer rights law”.
This would include making directions to remedy such infringements or stop them from happening in the future and imposing financial penalties, “where appropriate”.
The review added: “The CAA has recognised that additional powers would make a positive difference and that having more effective enforcement powers would potentially make those it regulates think harder about how they behave in relation to consumers.”
The Department for Transport said: “The review recognises the CAA’s important role in protecting the rights of the consumer and critical work as an industry regulator.
“It is important that passengers feel confident that their rights will be protected, and that those who don’t deliver an acceptable standard of service, can be held accountable. Today’s announcement makes clear that the CAA’s work must continue to protect the rights of passengers.
“Last month the government announced its response to last year’s aviation consumer policy reform consultation, which included strengthening the CAA’s powers to further protect both consumers’ and airlines’ interests.”
Aviation minister Baroness Vere said: “The CAA is an effective and well-respected regulator for the UK aviation industry, balancing the interests of industry and consumers.
“I am pleased that this independent review recognises the CAA’s status as a world leading regulator and it is only right that it strives to be even better, to deliver for all its users in the future”
In response, the CAA said it welcomed the government’s commitments “to strengthening its consumer enforcement powers, bringing it in line with other regulators”.
CAA chair Sir Stephen Hillier said: “The review has helpfully also identified areas where we can improve. We welcome those recommendations – we are a learning organisation and always looking continuously to improve.
“We have already initiated improvements in some of these areas and I am confident that the implementation of all the recommendations will help ensure that we are an ever-more forward-looking, efficient, effective, and well-governed organisation, constantly looking after aviation consumers’ interests and constantly improving the service we provide to our regulated customers.”