Tour operators across the UK could shut down if judges take the government’s advice on volcanic ash cloud compensation claims. Legislation under the 1992 Package Travel Regulations remains under interpretation and the industry is concerned that these could incur seriously damaging costs on small operators. However, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has insisted that it would be up to the judge to decide an operator’s fate. “All the legislation never anticipated this event and tour operators are looking at the Package Travel Directive (PTD) for help,” Partner of asb law Helen Mead told Travel Daily. “Under these regulations, tour operators have to provide ‘reasonable assistance’ but not necessarily money.” She explained it was only a matter of time until a customer would go to court with a claim and it would be difficult to prove who should foot the bill. “There needs to be more clarity,” she added. “The EU is set to review the PTD and it needs to be sorted. Tour operators are getting the raw end of the deal because some are also taking the bills from airlines after a change in ATOL rules.” Mead continued to say that a tour operator may not only have to pay out compensation for extra hotel nights, taxis or meals incurred by the ash cloud delays, but court fees too. “If a tour operator is faced against a group it could face tens of thousands of damage,” she said. “It will not be quick and easy because there has been nothing like this before.” Mead also warned that there would be ‘appeal after appeal’ if it is successful. She advised tour operators to take on the guidance from ABTA. “The key thing is to stick to the letter and follow the guides as no-one knows what will happen,” she added. ABTA Head of Legal Services Simon Bunce said the association plans to write to BIS about the publication of the guidance. “We are disappointed with the position BIS has taken,” said Bunce. “We had been speaking to them on a regular basis, and we are surprised they did not consult us about this.” Ash-related claims against operators are to be held in county courts in the coming weeks. A BIS spokesperson said: “We hope this makes it easier for tour operators to understand the regulations, and can be used as a springboard for any further advice they may wish to take.