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Captain Otjan de Bruijn – President of the European Cockpit Association (ECA)
Captain Otjan de Bruijn - President, European Cockpit Association (ECA)

Captain de Bruijn has been working in the aviation industry for more than three decades. He has flown for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines since 1990 and currently serves as B777/B787 Captain.

Captain de Bruijn has represented pilots in many different positions over his career since becoming a member of the VNV-Dutch ALPA in 1989. Having been elected Chair of KLM pilots committee (2004-07), he became Chair of the TUIfly/Denim Air/CHC/KLM-Flight Academy for VNV Dutch-ALPA (2009-2011) and served as their Chair of Professional Affairs (2011-2017). In 2014, started his position as Director of Professional Affairs at ECA, becoming Vice-President, and ECA’s Executive Vice President Europe for IFALPA (2017-2020). Since 2020, Otjan has been President of ECA

What the EU elections mean for you as a pilot?

On 6-9 June, European citizens from across the continent will elect their country’s members for the European Parliament (EP) – which is the only EU institution that is directly elected by voters. By choosing 720 ‘MEPs’ (= Members of the European Parliament), each citizen thereby can directly determine who in the EP will decide upon the many EU laws that will shape their daily life. Because whether it is about climate action, migration & asylum, consumer rights, or aviation and transport matters, it is the EP that has an important say on how these laws finally look like.

But what does this mean for pilots, when it comes to aviation, social matters or technical safety regulation? Captain Otjan de Bruijn – President of the European Cockpit Association (ECA) who defends the pilots’ interests in Brussels – sheds light on these elections and what they mean for us as pilots.

Question: People usually focus on national politics, while the European Parliament elections seem far away and disconnected from our daily reality. Why should anybody bother to vote in June?

Cpt. Otjan de Bruijn: The reason is very simple: Nowadays, Europe has an impact on almost every aspect of our daily lives, because there are only very few domains left that are not affected by some kind of European regulation. For us as pilots, for example, the regulations that govern aviation are all ‘made in Europe’. This is the case for how the EU aviation market functions, which safety incidents we must report, or how pilot training looks like and how long our legal flight and duty times are. Whether we like it or not, all this comes straight from Europe – where the European Parliament is one of the key players. And this is why we should all care – and go to vote in June.

Question: So, what is the Parliament’s role, and why is this relevant to ECA?

Cpt. Otjan de Bruijn: The Parliament is one of the 2 ‘co-legislators’ at EU level, where every legislative proposal from the EU Commission needs to be approved both by the EU Member States in the so-called ‘Council of Ministers’, and by the European Parliament. This power of approval gives the EP the ability to change the proposed law – provided that its counterpart, the Council of Ministers agrees, too. While this often requires long negotiations between the two Institutions, it offers ECA the possibility to submit our pilot views and concrete suggestions to the MEPs and to shape the final outcome of these negotiations.

Question: Can you give some examples on how the European Parliament helped the pilots’ cause in the past – and how it can help in future?

Cpt. Otjan de Bruijn: The European Parliament has been one of the most vocal supporters when it comes to push for EU legislation that helps to combat social dumping and abuses of atypical forms of employment, such as bogus self-employment or broker-agency contracts. Over the past 5 years, it was the EP that constantly pushed the EU Transport Commissioner, Mrs Vălean, to propose a law which addresses the many legal loopholes that ‘inventive’ airlines are exploiting every day. Unfortunately, Commissioner Vălean failed to propose such a law, despite many promises she made. This is definitely one area where we will need the newly elected MEPs to put maximum pressure on the future new EU Transport Commissioner.

Another example is the work mandate given to EASA, the EU Aviation Safety Agency, in Cologne. When this mandate was developed – in the form of the so-called ‘EASA Basic Regulation’ – the Parliament introduced many positive changes to this Regulation. Needless to say that ECA very actively represented the pilots’ ‘safety-first’ perspective during this legislative process and many of our suggestions had been taken up by the MEPs. For example, EASA now has the mandate to investigate and act upon the potential safety risks created by ‘socio-economic factors’, including atypical forms of aircrew employment. And again, this is an area where we need continued and strong support from the new EP, to ensure that EASA takes more forceful action to address such socio-economic risk factors.

Question: Has it been easy to convince MEPs about defending pilot issues?

Cpt. Otjan de Bruijn: No, definitely not easy. But together with the help of our national Member Associations and our excellent staff at the ECA office in Brussels – only 200 meters away from the EP building – we have managed to build support among MEPs. When it comes to safety issues, we usually got support from almost all political parties in the EP, except when safety would generate additional costs for the airlines (as it sometimes does); in such situations the conservative parties in the EP did quite often not support us. And when it comes to social issues, incl. the fight against social dumping and dubious atypical aircrew employment, most support came from left-wing and green parties, while conservative MEPs only very rarely support our cause. This is something to keep in mind when looking at who in the new EP is most likely to support both our safety and our social issues.

Question: So, would you recommend every pilot to vote?

Cpt. Otjan de Bruijn: Definitely yes. Every pilot should vote and every pilot should encourage family members and friends to vote as well. Because this ‘far-away’ European Parliament is actually much closer to our daily and professional lives as pilots than many think. Every vote counts and will help us at ECA to defend the pilots’ interests here in Brussels, over the next 5 years.

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EU Parliament – 200 meters away from ECA’s Brussels office
EU Parliament