* Dutch couple sued KLM over 29-hour delay
* Delay caused by two technical defects
* EU court says technical problems arise as matter of course
By Julia Fioretti
BRUSSELS, Sept 17 Airlines have to pay
passengers compensation when flights are cancelled or delayed
due to unforeseen technical problems, the European Union's top
court ruled on Thursday, handing a victory to consumers.
The case was brought by a Dutch couple whose flight from
Quito, Ecuador, to Amsterdam was delayed by 29 hours. KLM
refused to pay compensation on the grounds that the
technical faults that caused the delay were extraordinary
Under EU law, air carriers do not have to pay compensation
if the cancellation or delay is caused by "extraordinary
circumstances" such as bad weather, strikes and political
instability, which could not have been avoided even if all
reasonable measures had been taken.
KLM argued the two defective components at the root of the
delay had not exceeded their average lifetime and that the
manufacturer had not provided any specific information on which
defects might arise once the equipment reached a certain age.
The Luxembourg-based court said that while technical
problems could constitute extraordinary circumstances, for
example those caused by acts of sabotage or terrorism, the same
could not be said for issues that arise during maintenance of
the aircraft or from a failure to carry out such maintenance.
"In the course of the activities of an air carrier, that
unexpected event is inherent in the normal exercise of an air
carrier's activity, as air carriers are confronted as a matter
of course with unexpected technical problems," the Court of
Justice of the European Union said in a press release. "No
component of an aircraft lasts forever."
Flight-Delayed.co.uk, a group representing air passengers in
Britain, applauded the ruling, saying compensation claims were
often rejected on the grounds of unforeseen technical errors.
"Approximately 79 percent of the claims are immediately
rejected, yet when we take a claim to court we win 98 percent of
the time, even in the case of technical errors," said
Flight-Delayed spokesman Raymond Veldkamp.
The Association of European Airlines said the case proved
that the current air passenger rights regulation needed to be
reviewed since it was giving rise to "one court case after the
other" and different interpretations.
(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Mark Potter)