Published on June 1st, 2016 | by frances


Debate: Aviation and the European Union

The case for the European Union

By Andy Mooney, Aviation Group Chair

The European debate is one that is vital to airlines and to their passengers. The result of Britain’s membership of the EU is that the cost of flights, in real terms, has reduced considerably, bringing travel within reach of families who previously would have found the cost prohibitive, while the range of available destinations has soared. Before the EU created the common aviation area in the 1990s, fewer people flew for pleasure; it was something reserved for the elite. Those who were fortunate enough to fly found themselves travelling on government-owned airlines between state-controlled airports. Those flights were in many cases heavily regulated by the respective governments who decided the number of flights and the fares, which were often prohibitively expensive.

Furthermore, the bargaining power of the European Union as a collective whole has facilitated the introduction of bilateral agreements with other states, e.g. with the United States, to provide open sky agreements increasing access to our airlines to overseas destinations.

Membership of the European Union has thus brought tremendous benefit to the travelling public.

Those of us who work in the aviation industry, whether working for airport operators, baggage handlers, airlines or air traffic service providers, will have seen many changes over recent years arising from Europe. Indeed our industry is almost unrecognisable in many ways. There are many changes and improvements which have helped support this transformation that have their origin in Brussels. Some (though by no means all) regulations that impact on the aviation industry relate to the Single European Sky initiative.

Prior to the establishment of The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), member states were responsible for the regulation of civil aviation safety. They did attempt to harmonise their requirements and practices through establishing joint aviation authorities, but there continued to be differing interpretations of harmonised standards which adversely affected the efficiency of regulation and increased compliance costs for the sector and, ultimately, the consumer.

In general, there’s no such thing as ‘perfect’ regulations, but many of the elements introduced in recent years will be seen by the average member of the public to be beneficial.

Workers’ rights

For trade unions, working with our international partner organisations such as the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF), the process of ‘social dialogue’ – the process of discussions in the ordinary course of events between governments and employer and worker representatives –under the auspices of the European Union has allowed us to reach collective agreements with the representative associations of employers on issues such as ‘just culture’.

Recent years have seen progress on a number of fronts with occurrence reporting harmonisation, including improvement work on ‘just culture’ and encompassing principles around the non-punitive learning of lessons from incidents. This is fairly well-established in the UK, but it has not consistently been the case throughout Europe.

Social protection

Workers’ rights to information and consultation is a fundamental right under the EU Charter. As such, through negotiation, ‘open sky’ agreements have included social protections with the aim of preventing social dumping.

A number of the EU regulations have had some social legislation incorporated into them. Examples are the Functional Airspace Blocks and occurrence reporting. Indeed, working together in social dialogue, the social partners (i.e. trade unions and employer representative bodies) have secured funding for initiatives such as the ‘Social Dialogue Toolbox’, which seeks to increase the quality of social dialogue and, thereby, reduce the risks of conflicts.

Workers are currently protected by certain EU legislation e.g. the Working Time Directive. This, albeit not specific to our sector, provides for minimum standards for those who do not have more direct regulation of hours due to the safety nature of their roles e.g. flight crew and air traffic controllers.

The Civil Aviation (Working Time) Regulations 2004 implemented into UK legislation European Council Directive 200/79/EC, commonly known as the ‘Aviation Directive’. The regulations contain two core elements applying to public transport aircraft operations, one dealing with working time requirements and the other occupational health and safety rights and entitlements. They place statutory duties on UK airline operators to address these issues within aircraft. In early 2016, new EASA rules on flight crew were introduced which have a specific focus on the avoidance of fatigue.

A form of regulation of these safety critical roles would undoubtedly persist outside EU membership, but the same may not be said for the broader Working Time Regulations.

Consumer protection

It is, however, important to look at the European Union as related to the aviation industry also as citizens and consumers.

For those of us who do travel by air, it is an unfortunate fact that many of us will have experienced delays. The first priority is to seek to reduce and eliminate delays where possible, but it is only through the European Union that compensation rules are now in place to protect passengers who suffer the longest delays and cancellations despite the fierce pressure from airlines and their lobbyists to resist these measures.

Passengers want to be assured of the safety record of the airlines on which they fly. The airline safety monitoring and associated  ‘no fly list’ of airlines from outside the EU, where there are concerns over their safety record, is one example of the European Union taking action to protect the travelling public in a way that would be much less effective if member countries sought to pursue this course of action individually. Yes – the point is that we could do this on our own, but that our interests (and those of UK citizens living in other EU countries) are better protected when we act in concert.

Environmental protection

The Single European Sky initiative has a drive to improve the performance of the network, including environmental benefits. This includes a drive to have more direct routes, more efficient flight profiles, fewer arrival and departure delays, with associated fuel-burn reductions, coupled with improvements in noise performance. EASA is also focused on high standards of environmental protection in addition to its work on aviation safety.

Technological advance

Under the ‘Single European Sky ATM Research’ Programme (SESAR), significant funds are being made available to improve and enhance the technology used in air traffic management across Europe. This funding enables the development of innovative technologies that it would be difficult for individual air navigation service providers, or nation states, to achieve acting on their own. The SESAR programme will benefit the travelling public through improvements in capacity and whilst improving the environmental performance of aviation.

Harmonisation and safety

The introduction of the European Aviation Safety Authority provides a single agency promoting safety and an external focus.

The harmonisation of national regulations into a single set of rules, consistently applied Europe-wide and thereby avoiding confusion and error, can clearly be seen as a direct safety benefit. An example would be the ‘Single European Rules of the Air’.

It is beneficial to have minimum rules introduced, an act of ‘levelling-up’ standards that have applied in the various nations and which in many cases have used existing pre-‘Single European Sky’ UK regulations as a benchmark.

The harmonisation of rules is generally to be encouraged, but this should be applied in an appropriate manner and not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. It is necessary for the UK properly to engage in the rule-making process to ensure that regulations are ‘workable’ in their particular context.

The United Kingdom has both some of the most complex airspace, e.g. around London, and some very remote operations.  Our participation in defining the rules which apply as our airlines and our citizens fly across the continent is important in ensuring that the outcomes are fit-for-purpose, an influence which could be much diminished or entirely removed in the event of a vote to leave.


There are a number of positive outcomes which flow from our membership of the European Union. The institutions themselves are not perfect and some reform of the manner in which business is conducted between the Council, the Commission and the Parliament is both desirable and indeed necessary. We as a nation state should continue to press for reform within the EU – fostering the pursuit of items which command broad support whilst ensuring that the ‘subsidiarity principle’ is applied allowing matters to be determined at national level where this is most appropriate.

It is not just the EU institutions themselves that require reform but the relationship that our government (including the DfT) and other organisations that may represent the UK state on aviation matters, such as the CAA, has with them. In particular, we must recognise that many of our neighbours are more wedded to a ‘state-owned – state-run’ model for their national infrastructure than the UK, which is more predisposed to privatisation and market-principles; our politicians, bureaucrats and corporate leaders – in accepting that other models than our own also have merit – will get better engagement and co-operation.

Should the UK decide to leave the European Union, our place in the EU aviation industry would change. The exact effect of this is uncertain. There is no suggestion that the developments which have taken place will be rowed back on should the UK leave the EU; but we have to question the extent to which, had the EU not existed, they would have progressed quite as far, and with as many benefits for ordinary people, since the impetus to international collaboration would not have been there. As a nation, we could seek to remain a participant in the SESAR Technology Programme, in Eurocontrol and in EASA, and we could expect also to continue to be bound on other aspects of the Single European Sky regulations – but perhaps with a different level of influence over the content and direction of those programmes and regulations.


The case against the European Union

By John Stevenson, Prospect Negotiations Officer

At the heart of the anti-growth neo-liberal policies of the European Union (EU) lies increased control and direction of all member states:  ‘ever closer union’ has, and always will be, the aim of the EU. Aviation is not immune from this; control is being lost with the negative impacts of reduced national control, safety and national security.

The EU has had a negative impact upon those employed within the aviation industry; and employees have been ‘liberalised’, compelled to become more ‘competitive’.

  • The EU now has virtual control over British aviation and is intent on extending control even further. No area remains, or will remain, untouched: regulation, safety and policy are now under the remit of the EU, which has a damaging impact on Britain’s ability to control its industry and skies.

The EU has, since 2002, taken significant control of the industry across the continent of Europe. In the November of that year, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that EU member states could no longer act in isolation when negotiating international air agreements. This ruling became what is now known as the ‘Open Skies Policy’. The consequence of this was all member states must enable any carrier to fly into that state and onwards to any third destination.

The EU has been attempting to wrestle control of the skies from the nations of the EU further via a plan to merge national air traffic control organisations of member states into nine Functional Aerospace Blocks under a European network manager. The consequences of this for national sovereignty would be severe, while being unable to control skies could have catastrophic results. The Schengen Agreement, with the removal of border controls, has assisted the free movement of terrorists by land across national borders. Imagine if the EU had free movement in the skies also across the whole of the continent?

For those employed in air traffic control, ‘Open Skies’ has been the dominant issue. For controllers, the result would be a loss of jobs, cuts to terms and conditions and insecure employment. The ethos of safety would no longer be the over-riding priority.

Fortunately, Germany and France realised the implications of ‘Open Skies’ and, in June 2013, forced the EU to abandon its plans, but to believe that this issue has gone away is arguably delusional. The September Roadmap stated: ‘Single European Sky (SES) is the flagship initiative dealing with the modernisation and performance of the Air Traffic Management.’ There is no doubt that the EU will not let its flagship disappear and it remains firmly on the agenda.

  • The control of aviation by EASA, supported in principle by the European Commission, is having a negative impact upon safety within the industry.

Following the CJEU judgment in 2003, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was established and given regulatory and executive powers, taking over the functions of joint aviation authorities and national agencies.

The position of the British Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in 1999 was that commercial pressures should not have an impact on maintenance procedures. Today, EASA’s view on this is somewhat different, supporting the commercial impact on aircraft maintenance procedures. In an industry with extremely tight profit margins, airlines could weaken maintenance procedures simply to increase profits. All engineers will recognise that there is even greater pressure to get the work completed and back in the sky.

One of the manifestations of EASA’s commercial policy is the wish that employers should be able to grant Licence Approval for Engineers. This has been successfully resisted thus far, but the issue has not been removed from the agenda and, like ‘Open Skies’, will inevitably re-emerge.

The consequences of employers issuing licences instead of the CAA would be disastrous. Any independence would disappear overnight: the engineer would be unable to operate as a professional worker having become dependent on the employer for their livelihood and removing any portability of the licence with damage to career development.

Support for this is evident from the EU Commission’s Roadmap, which pointed to the ‘Revision of Regulation 216/2008 on common rules in the field of civil aviation and establishing a European Aviation Safety Agency (2015/MOVE 001) to enhance competitiveness through the promotion of common standards.’

Furthermore, the EU is currently undertaking secret talks with the United States on the establishment of the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). It is clear from the leaked documents that this will further liberalise aviation which would result in it being completely removed from the remit of governments.  Aviation policy would be determined by those sitting in boardrooms and not by elected governments.

One consequence here is that the issue of licences for engineers will be back on the agenda: once TISA has been completed, then it will have succeeded since the aim of this is to introduce more free market ideology. All the major airlines want this so if TISA (and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is enacted then they should be able to get their way. With a Commission and an EU hell-bent on neo-liberalism there will be no stopping them!

  • The ever-increasing drive for competitiveness and the driving down of costs are having an impact on safety and on those employed within the industry.

The EU, in its efforts to liberalise the airspace of Europe, has additionally attacked the safety regulations that provide restrictions on the working hours of pilots and air crews. The EU Commission imposed a deal with the EU Parliament in 2013 that now means a pilot could be awake for 24 hours. Regulations now only require two pilots for long-haul flights as opposed to three; this will result in pilots flying for 14 hours and still be expected to land aircraft safely.

The EU is intent on controlling the skies, which will detrimentally impact upon safety, skills, security and employment. The only way to prevent this is for Britain to remove itself from the debilitating shackles and liberal ideology of the EU.

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