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Department of Transport refuses to approve post to look after air-passenger rights

The Department of Transport has refused to approve the appointment of a director of consumer protection by the national agency with responsibility for air-passenger rights.

The Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) sought permission to create the senior consumer-protection post in a workforce plan submitted to the department for approval last month.

It followed a 14% increase in the number of Irish consumer complaints about air travel last year, according to European Consumer Centre (ECC), making it the most-complained-about issue of 2017.

Transport Minister Shane Ross previously indicated that he plans to merge the safety role of the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) with the CAR

The appointment of a director of consumer protection by the CAR was also recommended by global consultancy firm, Willis Towers Watson (WTW), in a report on restructuring the agency.

However, an internal memo shows that the department rejected the CAR’s request seeking the appointment of a consumer-protection director in November. It also declined to sanction the creation of two other full-time posts.

The workforce plan submitted by the CAR was consistent with the recommendations of the WTW ‘resilience report’, which provided the rationale for proposed changes.

It sought the appointment of an accountant, solicitor and senior economist at assistant-principal level, along with the appointment of a director of consumer protection at principal-officer level.

However, only the appointment of an accountant was recommended by the department, according to the memo.

It also approved a request to hire three executive officers on fixed-term contracts, but refused to sanction three out of four proposed promotions.

These posts are supported having regard to the CAR’s business case for its immediate and near future business requirements,” read the internal document.

“The other changes proposed by the CAR are not supported. Insufficient evidence has been presented, in the business case or otherwise, that these changes are immediately necessary,” it added.

The memo noted that it was necessary to pay close attention to staffing in agencies, ensuring that posts were filled at the appropriate level, and that “upward drift” be minimised.

“One of the main recommendations of the WTW report is a reorganisation of the senior management structure to include a new director of consumer protection and redistribute extant responsibilities among the existing directors,” it stated.

“However, it is important to note that the WTW report is based on analysis of the commission’s present state, with the imminent Safety Regulation Directorate/CAR merger excluded from its terms of reference.

“It would be premature at this stage to grant these staffing changes until the necessary decisions have been made on the future aviation regulator’s detailed organisational requirements.”

Transport Minister Shane Ross previously indicated that he plans to merge the safety role of the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) with the CAR. This was recommended following a review of the IAA by consultants, Helios.

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport did not respond to a request for comment.