EU Parliament pushes for greater scrutiny of airline working practices

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Low-cost airlines’ employment models could come under greater European Union scrutiny under a provision pushed by EU lawmakers concerned about their effect on aviation safety.

FILE PHOTO: An aircraft prepares for landing in Cointrin airport during sunrise over the Mont Blanc in Geneva December 1, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The practise of employing pilots on zero hours or pay-to-fly contracts, or via temporary third-party agencies, has drawn criticism from labour unions who say it encourages them to have a lower perception of risk or fly even when are ill or tired.

The European Parliament and representatives from EU member states are working on a compromise to a reform of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) which will give it a new mandate to probe any links between “socio-economic” factors and safety.

The provision was pushed by the group of Socialists in the Parliament, concerned that some low-cost airlines put too much pressure on their pilots to fly, thereby risking passenger safety. The measure has been provisionally agreed, but will not be final until the two sides reach a deal on the full text.

However, airlines and several member states, notably Ireland, were opposed to the measure as they see no link between different employment models and safety.

"There is no proven link between safety and social matters. Current aviation safety regulations in Europe provide for comprehensive regulatory measures that ensure a very high level of safety," said Thomas Reynaert, managing director of Airlines for Europe, which represents Ryanair RYA.I, easyJet EZJ.L, Lufthansa LHAG.DE and Air France KLM AIRF.PA among others.

“There is no need for additional requirements on the basis of social aspects or employment conditions,” Reynaert said.


One airline lobbyist said it was an attempt by trade unions to suggest that flexible employment models are less safe.

EASA has already started looking into the matter and has not found evidence that employment models have an impact on safety.

The employment models of low-cost airlines, which underpin their low fares, have been a bone of contention with unions who take issue with the practise of employing staff across Europe under the less generous terms of Irish law.

Some lawmakers are concerned that pilots without regular work contracts may not have the autonomy to make safety decisions which could go against the commercial interests of the airline.

“We need to make sure that the continuing decay of prices and social standards in aviation do not lead to the situation where pilots and crew cannot make independent safety decisions,” said Socialist MEP Gabriele Preuss, who pushed the amendment.

Under the new provision, EASA will publish a report every three years detailing any actions it has taken and the agency will also be able to issue regulations if it finds that business models have a negative impact on safety.

“They (EASA) can also address any potential hazards and safety risks through legislation in the future. So that is also an opportunity,” said Philip von Schoeppenthau, secretary general of the European Cockpit Association, which represents pilots.

Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by David Holmes