In its judgement of 17 September 2015, the Court of Justice (9th Chamber) has further specified how to interpret Art. 5 (3) of Regulation (EC) No. 261/2004 (see my article of 08 December 2014 in this column).
In the case the Court of Justice has now decided upon, a passenger had requested compensation payments for a delayed flight from Ecuador to Amsterdam. According to the airline, the delay was due to an unexpected technical problem with the fuel pump and a hydro-mechanical unit which was not attributable to defective maintenance and which was not detected during regular maintenance.
The Court of Justice had to decide whether a technical problem which occurred unexpectedly falls within the definition of “extraordinary circumstances” within the meaning of Art. 5 (3) of Regulation No. 261/2004. With reference to recital 14 in that regulation, it pointed out that a problem may be classified as extraordinary only if it relates to an event which is not inherent in the normal exercise of the activity of the air carrier concerned and is beyond the actual control of that carrier on account of its nature or origin.
However, since the functioning of aircraft inevitably gives rise to technical problems, these cannot be classified regularly as “extraordinary”. The event at hand might have been unforeseen, however it does not fall within the definition of “extraordinary circumstances” within the meaning of Art. 5 (3) of Regulation No. 261/2004.
Therefore, it is irrelevant whether the air carrier could have adopted reasonable measures to deal with the event.
Art. 5 (3) of Regulation No. 261/2004 shall be interpreted in that a technical problem which occurred unexpectedly cannot fall within the definition of “extraordinary circumstances” even if it is not attributable to defective maintenance and was not detected during regular maintenance.
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