Sustainable Aviation: Landing Desirable Jobs


As it is now, the aviation sector needs a long-term sustainability perspective, both from the environmental and social points of view.

On the one hand, workers are leaving the industry due to a lack of decent jobs.  On the other hand, the industry accounts for 4.8% of total CO2 emissions. While not the most polluting economic sector globally, aviation must do its part and put forward an ambitious decarbonisation plan.

So how can environmental and social sustainability go hand in hand? With a plan for decarbonisation with the heart of the industry at its core: its workers.


The 2022 summer chaos filled with strike action accurately depicts the turmoil the sector finds itself in. Today, workers in the sector are faced with low wages, long hours and precarious contracts, including agency work, zero-hour contracts and even self-employment.

But, summer did not only bubble over with strike action; it was also a scorching hot summer due to climate change.

Aviation, like all industrial sectors, has a role to play in mitigating the effects of climate change by reducing CO2 emissions and doing its part to achieve environmental sustainability.

Aviation workers are well aware that there is no work on a dead planet, are ready to play their part, but refuse to pay the price for green transition with their jobs, pay and working conditions.

The industry needs an ambitious decarbonisation plan with people at its centre.

What should that look like?

The ETF wants sustainable, desirable jobs for the future: jobs that are healthy to perform, pay living wages and provide quality working conditions. These jobs need to go hand in hand with reducing the industry’s impact on the environment while fostering a work environment characterized by safety, just culture and democratic participation of workers.

In its paper, Landing Desirable Jobs, the ETF lays out its vision for a Sustainable Aviation Sector:

Here, we lay out and summarise our key principles, which are explained in detail in our paper which can also be downloaded at your right.


Aviation is a common good and comes with many social benefits – bringing families and friends who live far away together, supplying critical medical supplies, connecting remote areas and more. Of course, the freedom of flying must be preserved within the planet’s limits.

A robust policy and a legislative framework to tackle GHG emissions must go hand in hand with environmental campaigns directed at consumers.


Technological advancements such as new propulsion systems, including hydrogen and battery-powered aircraft, and sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) are foreseen to reduce the aviation industry’s climate impact. SAFs need to be promoted, but they shouldn’t be carbon-intensive or harmful to handle.

The impact of these technologies on workers’ conditions should be evaluated by including health and safety concerns in the very design of these new solutions and by including workers’ representatives at every step of the process.

The ETF supports technological change but insists that these changes should also benefit workers.

Improvements are already possible now, without having to wait new technologies: for example, air quality which affects the health of both air crews and ground staff can and must be improved both in the cabin and on the tarmac to tackle bleed air, jet blasts and ultra-fine particles.


The cost of climate policy can not and should not be borne by workers and their families.

Too often, working conditions, contracts and rights at work deteriorate and shrink to unfairly compensate for a cost rise in other areas, such as fuel or taxes.

To avoid this, workers’ representatives must be iinvolved all along the process to make sure companies do not lower workers’ pay and conditions.

  • Tax measures such as the tax on kerosene, should take into account the potential direct or indirect negative effects this new cost can have on labour.
  • Revenues should be reinvested in development projects that will further reduce the environmental impact of aviation, by supporting a reduction in cost and greater uptake of SAFs.
  • Choose a more environmentally friendly route or pay more: Proposal to promote efficient routing and Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) uptake through a penalty-based system in air traffic charges
  • Private aircrafts are 5 to 14 times more polluting than commercial planes (per passenger). They should be heavily taxed and, if not carbon zero, banned by 2030.
  • All types of CO2 emissions should be taxed progressively by revenue: this would weigh in environmental concerns into the consumption of the wealthier while improving funding for the just transition and incentivizing green innovation
  • Prices in the low-cost sector are too low and the pressure on labour cost is detrimental for workers. Environmental and social sustainability need to go hand in hand.


Social expectations and environmental goals can go hand in hand if aviation workers are active agents of the transition process and as long as just transition mechanisms are in place.

Engaging aviation workers means addressing critical issues that have put the workforce under intolerable strain for many years.

These issues include employment security, access to decent work, equality for women and young workers, robust health and safety protections, and improved worker representation.

Workers should be retained in their role, and if this is not possible, a robust training programme needs to prepare them for their new role with equal levels of pay, conditions and union representation.

Our full paper can be consulted and downloaded at your right.

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