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Out of the COVID crisis: Pilots’ flight plan for Europe

There are many paths our industry can take through the COVID-19 crisis, which has profoundly affected, if not crippled, European aviation. There are very few however that are in the interests of Europe’s citizens, and that lead to a safe, worthwhile and sustainable future for all whom the industry serves and supports.

To do so will take active political and industrial leadership. It will mean choosing and driving the better path, not ‘waiting to see’, not just accepting what happens without vision or direction.

There will be a severe temptation for some, particularly those who are used to assuming the primacy of commercial interests – over the public interest, over customers, workers and the environment – to seek advantage at the expense of all other stakeholders.

That temptation will be to sacrifice or cannibalise other stakeholders in the pursuit of quick relief or profits. Such an approach will undermine the society that has previously tolerated the many faces of the aviation sector, and to which the aviation industry is responsible. It will fragment and weaken Europe’s aviation single market, and the position of European airlines and workers within it and globally.

The only way through this crisis for aviation is with stakeholders returning to strength in lock step, supporting each other’s position.

The only way through this crisis for aviation is with stakeholders returning to strength in lock step, supporting each other’s position.

We cannot simply seek relative advantage by taking bites out of each other, we must look to get all of us through in the healthiest, strongest possible position. Key to this is that the aviation industry must serve the public interest. 

For Europe to get through COVID it must have a resilient aviation sector that can support and amplify the wider economy, that is responsible to the taxpayers who tolerate or support it, that is socially sustainable for those who work in it, that is environmentally sustainable for the whole of society, and that provides high quality and fair service to the citizens who use it.

The purpose of the aviation industry is to provide for that safe, worthwhile and sustainable future for all whom it serves and supports. 

No more, no less.

Executive Summary

To get through COVID – and to prepare for future crises and shocks – Europe needs a resilient aviation sector that is socially and environmentally sustainable and provides high-quality connectivity for its citizens and regions.

The need to preserve aviation as an essential strategic infrastructure serving the public interest should guide Europe’s recovery strategy. This requires a holistic approach, including:

1. Socially & environmentally sustainable aviation sector for those who work in it and for the citizens, taxpayers and the wider society:

  • Social responsibility: all stakeholders must manage the crisis in a socially responsible manner by (a) retaining staff (incl. using state support) & maintaining skills and crews’ employability; (b) managing cuts in jobs & conditions through genuine social dialogue; and (c) eradicating precarious atypical employment (bogus self-employment, broker agency set-ups, Pay-to-Fly etc.).
  • Environment: we must take concrete & credible measures and pathways towards decarbonisation of aviation and towards EU climate goals. Sustainable Aviation Fuels – especially electro fuels – to play a key role.
  • Public interest conditionality: any public aid and alleviations must come with conditions attached that protect the public interest, incl. strict social & environmental criteria.

2. Single Market free of distortion & a strong global player:

  • Level playing field: priority must be given to repairing the pre-existing distortions in the Single Market, created by social engineering, rule shopping and atypical employment by certain players & countries. Law enforcement (incl. posting & temporary agencies), applicability of local law where an Operational Base is set up, and a presumption of direct employment for crew are key measures to be taken.
  • Strong, truly European global player: the EU external aviation policy must promote & defend Europe’s aviation, more than ever. Further market opening must be suspended, no intra-EU 5th freedom rights must be granted, 3rd country wet-leasing must be exceptional & strictly limited in time; current O&C rules must remain in place & be enforced to prevent 3rd countries from taking over strategic European infrastructure assets.

3. Resilience based on safety, skilled workforce and advance planning:

  • Aviation safety must be restored, maintained & increased, by tightened public safety oversight, enhanced safety management by operators and crew fatigue prevention.
  • Measures to be taken to retain skilled workforce, recency, employability & re-skilling.
  • Develop ready-made packages of emergency measures for different crisis scenarios; consider minimum liquidity requirements; focus on what serves the public interest.

A holistic approach, guided by the public interest: predatory behaviour, whereby some players try to strive at the expense of the others will derail the recovery. Aviation is an ‘eco-system’ where everybody depends on the health of the others. This includes the aviation professionals who will be asked to deliver a safe & successful recovery. Only if all stakeholders work together will aviation come out of this crisis stronger, more resilient and truly sustainable.  


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