LONDON (Reuters) - Airlines flying out of Britain could face large rises in the number of passengers who can claim compensation for delayed and cancelled flights after a court ruling on Thursday.
Britain's air regulator said that airlines would no longer be able to cite standard technical faults as a reason for not paying compensation after a court of appeal ruled in favour of a passenger.
The only circumstance when an airline would be able to avoid paying compensation would be if the technical fault was a result of an "out of the ordinary" event such as a lightning strike, extreme winter weather or strike action.
Under the current interpretation of the rules, a technical issue which causes flight disruption can be deemed an "extraordinary circumstance" and airlines do not have to compensate passengers. Passengers are entitled to compensation if their flight is cancelled or delayed by more than three hours on arrival.
The ruling will now be subject to a further appeal by Jet2, a small British airline based in Leeds, northern England, which is at the centre of the court case. It will take its case to Britain's Supreme Court.
"If the Court of Appeal's decision stands, it will mean a large increase in the number of passengers entitled to compensation for delayed and cancelled flights," Britain's air regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement.
Jet2 said in a statement that the latest judgement contradicted an agreement between European air bodies that unexpected technical defects were considered extraordinary for the purposes of compensation.
Passengers can make claims retrospectively. Anyone who has been affected by delays because of technical reasons over the last six years and has not already had a claim rejected, can make a claim, the CAA said.
Passengers can claim between 250 and 600 euros (201 to 483 pounds) in compensation depending on the length of the journey.
A spokesman for British Airways, part of IAG, said it was assessing the implications of the legal judgement. easyJet said it would study the ruling in more detail.
(Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)