When an aircraft hits a bird on take-off the score is typically aircraft 1, bird nil... although passengers usually lose out too, being delayed while the plane is inspected for damage and often grounded.
Those delays or cancellations could soon entitle travellers to compensation under European law, with up to €600 (A$875) in payment if the flight lands at its original destination more than three hours behind schedule.
The European Court of Justice earlier this month ruled that bird strikes do not count as an 'extraordinary circumstance' in regard to the EC 261/2004 regulation covering passenger compensation for delayed flights.
While colliding with an aircraft or being sucked into its jet engine probably rates as fairly extraordinary (and also rather unfortunate) if you're the bird, EJC Advocate General Yves Bot opined that "a bird strike cannot be considered as an extraordinary incident."
"The frequency of these types of incidents and the fact that aircraft manufacturers, airports and flights are taking them into account is in my opinion an indication that such an incident must be considered as inherent to the exercise of the activity of an airline," Bot elaborated.
Under the 261/2004 regulation airlines are not obliged to pay compensation in the case of 'extraordinary circumstances', but Bot's ruling is expected to change that.
"The opinion of the Advocate General, while not legally binding is usually consistent with the official judgment that is expected to follow in the coming months and should be considered a powerful comment on this legal argument" says UK law firm Bott & Co, which specialises in consumer rights cases including flight delays.
"We have always argued that bird strikes are claimable cases, and have consistently seen courts in the UK take that position," says Kevin Clarke, who leads Bott & Co's Flight Delay Compensation Team.
“We’re delighted that Advocate General Bot has confirmed that interpretation today."
“This regulation now has a decade long history of complicated legal argument after complicated argument raised by the airlines. Every time a big issue like this has gone before a senior court they have returned in favour of the passengers.
Bot's judgement, if ratified by the EC, would would be legally binding in the UK and Europe and make bird strike compensation available to delayed passengers on any flight leaving an EU airport, as well as any flight into the EU on an EU-based airline.
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