OTTAWA - An appeal of ruling in favour of severely disabled Canadian passengers requiring an additional seat on airlines because they need medical assistance or are obese will not be heard by the Federal Court of Appeal.

The court turned down a request by Air Canada and West Jet to hear an appeal of a Canadian Transportation Agency ruling in January that requires them to offer a free seat to obese passengers who need one, or an attendant accompanying a disabled passenger.

The ruling leaves the airlines 12 months to draft regulations on accommodating qualified disabled passengers.

"We're thrilled," said Laurie Beachell, national co-ordinator of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. "I think this may be a first for air travel."

A spokesman for Air Canada said the company is still examining the decision by the court and would not discuss options.

In January, the Canadian Transportation Agency ruled that airlines would be given 12 months to comply with the policy already in place for train, bus and marine travel in Canada.

Air Canada (TSX:AC.A) and West Jet (TSX:WJA) sought leave before the federal court to appeal the ruling, but the request was turned down last week.

The airlines had argued that the so-called one-person, one-fare policy would be expensive, but the transportation agency rejected the claim.

"The airlines failed to demonstrate to the Agency that implementation of a one-person-one-fare policy will impose undue hardship on them," it said.

"The agency estimates that the cost of implementing the one-person-one-fare policy represents 0.09 per cent of Air Canada's annual passenger revenues of $8.2 billion, and 0.16 per cent of West Jet's equivalent revenues of $1.4 billion."

The issue dates back to 2002, when the council took the complaints of Joanne Neubauer of Victoria and Eric Norman, of Gander, N.L., who felt that they needed medical assistance not offered by the airlines to travel, to the transportation agency.

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