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Is Europe giving up on its airline industry?

In the past days the EU has taken decisions that favour third country carriers to the detriment of EU jobs. These cases show that Europe is giving up on one of its key industries.

First case: Following the takeover of TNT by FEDEX, the European Commission is allowing this US-American Express Cargo operators to use “virtual fifth freedom” rights to expand their business to Europe, flying the routes that were flown before by Belgian based pilots. These virtual freedoms do not exist in the Agreement between the EU and the US. It is a solution that the EU invented to allow the US airlines to fly EU routes. A solution that EU carriers are not allowed using in the States.

It is obvious that this will lead to a job-loss in this part of the industry and it’s already happening!

Furthermore, US airlines take advantage of post war rights given to pilots in Germany. Pilots and military staff were allowed to be posted in Europe while remaining subject to US social and tax regime. This system does not have any sense now and it is being abused since, in fact, these crews operate out of Paris and not from Germany where they have a bogus base. The same type of setup would not be possible and tolerated by the US and yet the EU does nothing. Another European loophole, cleverly used by companies from the country that's main policy is “America first”.

Second case: The UK Ministry of Transport gave the go-ahead to British Airways to hire Qatar aircraft & crew, as a cover during a cabin crew strike. Because of the ongoing diplomatic dispute many countries in the Gulf block Qatar Airways flights. How fortunate is British Airways (20% owned by Qatar) to be able to benefit from this overcapacity? Now they can use these aircraft to demonstrate what wet-leasing can very efficiently be used for: avoiding time consuming negotiations with your employees and focusing on what really counts: making money!

How fortunate is British Airways (20% owned by Qatar) to be able to benefit from this overcapacity?

At the same time, the European Commission very consistently keeps telling us that the liberalization of wet-leasing rules would be absolutely limited to the EU-US market. It now becomes obvious where the real motivation comes from: the aviation industry in Europe wants to expand their use of cheap labour coming from third countries – and the Commission has to deliver!

The transport sector has never been valued by the European Commission. It is seen as something that could easily be done cheaper, no matter the consequences. But what we see happening right now is shocking: the consequences are unpredictable and the current standards, be it safety or social, will not be maintained. Others very smartly use the loopholes that Europe offers, and will continue to do so. And maybe then, in a few years, Europe will realise the real value of safe transport – but then it will be too late!


by Capt. Dirk Polloczek, ECA President