The UK May Change How Repatriations Are Handled Following Thomas Cook Collapse

The UK government has proposed new legislation which would allow the aircraft of failed airlines to be used to repatriate passengers in the event of a collapse. The proposal comes after the collapse of Thomas Cook last month left a £100 million bill for repatriation of thousands of customers.

A Thomas Cook Jet
Thomas Cook left 150,000 UK passengers stranded abroad when it collapsed. Photo: Fabrizio Gandolfo via Wikimedia Commons

Aircraft of bankrupt airlines could be used for repatriation

The UK government has proposed new legislation which would allow the Civil Aviation Authority to operate failed airlines’ aircraft after they have folded.

According to reports by The Guardian, the new legislation has been proposed by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, as an expense-reducing measure which would result in significant cost savings for the taxpayer.

Currently, the Civil Aviation Authority has to go through the expensive and complicated process of chartering aircraft and crew from third parties in the event of an airline going bust.

Aircraft of airlines that have gone into liquidation are grounded under the current system. This means that, even though there are flight-ready planes and crew ready to cover repatriation flights, they cannot be used.

Under the new system, the Civil Aviation Authority would instead be able to use the aircraft and crew of a failed airline to bring home passengers. The transport secretary said,

“I’m determined to bring in a better system to deal with similar situations in future, helping ensure passengers are protected and brought home quickly and safely.”

A Thomas Cook A330
A new approach to airline passenger repatriation could save the taxpayer a significant amount of money. Photo: Rob Hodgkins via Flickr

Thomas Cook and Operation Matterhorn

When Thomas Cook ceased trading on 23 September, it had a huge knock-on impact around the world. Not only were 600,000 customers left abroad without return flights, but 21,000 Thomas Cook Group employees also lost their jobs.

Of the 600,000 people left stranded abroad, 150,000 were from the UK. As the airline was liquidated and its aircraft grounded, the Civil Aviation Authority had to set up its own operation to bring home the Brits left abroad.

Operation Matterhorn, as it was named, became the largest ever peacetime repatriation operation in UK history. But, as expected, it wasn’t cheap.

Luckily, funds from the Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing scheme covered part of the £100 million total cost of Operation Matterhorn. The remaining £40 million had to be covered by the taxpayer.

Lessons learned from Thomas Cook

Even though it had ceased trading, Thomas Cook had all the infrastructure, processes and bookings ready to complete repatriation flights. As a result, Operation Matterhorn, despite being an impressive feat, was not the most effective use of resources.

A Thomas Cook Airbus A330
The Civil Aviation Authority had hundreds of staff working on Operation Matterhorn. Photo: Transport Pixels via Flickr

This wasn’t out of choice, it was simply a result of the current legislation surrounding airlines entering liquidation. The new proposed legislation would make similar situations in the future a lot easier to handle, as well as being significantly more cost-effective.

Rather than the Civil Aviation Authority having to go through the arduous process of tracking down travelers and leasing aircraft from third parties, it could temporarily commandeer the aircraft of the failing airlines themselves.

What do you think? Does this make more sense? Let us know in the comments.