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A month ago, ECA had the opportunity to join the European Aviation Summit in Amsterdam, hosted by the Dutch EU Presidency. Through the three stimulating panels, the Summit offered an inside view of how CEOs and decision makers see the future of aviation in Europe and abroad. And from the feed-back of the Summit’s attendees, one thing became clear: the recently released EU Aviation Strategy was almost unanimously considered as insufficient to deal with today’s challenges.

It was a very well attended event, with all the relevant industry stakeholders present. But the event failed on one point: none of the panels included a speaker representing an association. None of us received the opportunity to share our – the employees – perspective; the perspective of those, who actually drive this industry!

As we know, 2015 was the safest year in the history of aviation in Europe (Germanwings aside). The densely populated airspace and jammed airports were kept safe and secure by the complex net of the many different professionals of aviation. These people, often behind-the-scenes, managed to safeguard a reliable, performing and on time service. After all – and we often forget that – aviation is still a service industry - run by People for People.

And it will remain this way, even if some would love to see it otherwise. Handing over the management of the airspace and the controls of an aircraft to automation and computers would certainly have one clear benefit: Automated pilots don’t dare to ask for a decent employment status, adequate payment, or complain about a bad safety culture.

Meanwhile, on the eve of the EU Aviation Summit in Amsterdam, the new lobbying organisation “Airlines for Europe” (A4E) announced its formation. The five “big” players of Europe’s aviation (IAG, Air France/KLM, Lufthansa Group, Easyjet & Ryanair) now join forces to lobby for what they can “agree” on, or as they say: ‘we call for nothing less than a revolution’. One of their points at the very top of their agenda is curbing the industrial actions of the Air Traffic Controllers. While every effort to bring common standards to transnational representation of employees failed so far, now, the opposite is taking shape, and that risks imposing a severe restriction of employees’ rights at a national level!

But how is is possible that the European Commission is pressured by a newly-born group on issues that they do not even regulate? Why do the leaders of the industry see a better perspective in lobbying in Brussels, rather than getting into a dialogue with their employees?

As they say: Real leaders do not need to search for conflict, but they do search for agreement!

The Aviation Summit ended without raising the many vital issues on the employee side of our human-led industry. The only airline CEO touching upon this crucial point was Pieter Elbers from KLM, who – while delivering a speech during the opening dinner – rightly said: “Remember, whatever we decide here and in the future, it will influence the life of many people. The people, who work for and love aviation!” 

by Dirk Polloczek
ECA President