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An alarming number of pilots are working with no direct link to the airline they actually fly for, with some airlines – especially in the low fares sector – drawing significantly upon a ‘casualised’ workforce, reveals new research. The results of the study, carried out by the University of Ghent (Belgium) and funded by the European Commission are presented at a 2-day conference in Paris, starting today (12 Feb 2015).

According to a survey with over 6000 participants, more than 1 in 6 pilots in Europe are “atypical” employees, i.e. working through a temporary work agency, as self-employed, or on a zero-hour contract with no minimum pay guaranteed.

More than 1 in 6 pilots in Europe are “atypical” employees

“The study clearly shows that casualised pilots are worrying about their working conditions and where to pay their taxes and social security. This puts crew under disproportionate strain”, says Emmanuel Jahan, Chair of the European Sectoral Social Dialogue for Civil Aviation, which commissioned the study. “For the social partners a strengthened ‘home base’ principle for air crew is the key criterion towards a common definition of the workplace in labour and social security laws."

According to the researchers, self-employment is one of the most prevalent types of atypical employment. 7 out of 10 of all self-employed pilots work for a low fares airline. Yet, self-employment is sometimes used to disguise what is in reality regular employment. This creates an unfair competitive advantage for those airlines that use it and severely distorts the aviation market.

The study also reveals the safety implications of bogus self-employment: nearly half of self-employed pilots struggle to amend instructions of the airline based on safety or liability objections. Casualisation of labour in aviation is more than just about avoiding social security and taxes. It raises serious concerns about the safety of the industry.

Half of self-employed pilots struggle to amend instructions of the airline based on safety or liability objections

Young pilots are the ones who are most affected by such casualisation of labour. 40% of 20-30 year old pilots are flying without being directly employed by the airline. While finding a job is difficult for young pilots in the first place, they also face situations where they end up subsidising their airline, e.g. by paying the airline to fly its aircraft in order to gain flight experience (“pay-to-fly” schemes). This creates potential conflicts of interests for an independent safety professional, and constitutes straight financial exploitation.

Much of this is possible because the existing legislation has loopholes or is not enforceable. Social security legislation, labour rules, and safety regulations must be adapted to ensure that employment models and management modes do not harm fair competition, nor damage the wellbeing or safety of passengers and crew.   

“The study represents a real milestone – the most comprehensive, rigorous, and concrete attempt to quantify and qualify some of the employment problems in the aviation industry.” says Jon Horne, Vice-Chair of the Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee. “We are keen to analyse and discuss together with decision-makers the action needed to ensure long-term stability in European air transport, in particular with regard to the detrimental burden placed on younger pilots, exemplified by abhorrent ‘pay-to-fly’ schemes.”

For further information, please contact

Emmanuel Jahan, Chair of the European Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee, +32 473 938 433

Jon Horne (contact Kameliya Encheva, ECA Communications Officer), +32 490 411 203


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More information about the conference on & on twitter #AtypicalEMPL

Note to editors:The conference on Atypical Forms of Employment in aviation takes place on 12-13 February 2015 in Hotel Novotel in Paris. The conference will present the outcomes of an extensive academic study led by the University of Ghent and an international network of researchers, and has been organised with the assistance of ECA, the Association for European Airlines (AEA), and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF).

The study is co-financed by the European Commission and carried out on behalf of the European Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee for Civil Aviation, which comprises the social partners from the airlines, both employers and employees.

The Sectoral Social Dialogue Committees are the official EU representative forum for the socioeconomic interests, established by Commission Decision of 20 May 1998. The Sectoral Social Dialogue for Civil Aviation is therefore the European Labour Management Body and expresses the genuine democratic position of employers and employees in the EU aviation sector.

The European Cockpit Association (ECA), the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and the Association of European Airlines (AEA) are among the members of the Social Dialogue Committee.

*This webpage was updated on 27 May 2015 to add the latest version of the UGent Full Report, which incorporates also the national Danish case study.