Keep Europe moving!

5 Mar 2020

 

We were sad to learn about another bankruptcy in civil aviation today – UK’s regional airline Flybe. The spread of the COVID-19 has had an important impact in accelerating the process towards the bankruptcy of the airline, which represents just one of the symptoms of a Europe-wide crisis. Decisive action needs to be taken to keep Europe moving.

To prevent a complete collapse of the air transport networks in the immediate future, the EU, European countries and other key authorities such as EASA need to come up with a detailed, clear and effective contingency plan. Civil aviation might be the first industry to see the effects, but there is more to come and no time can be wasted.

 

A contingency plan needs to cover the following points:

Social dimension

Governments need to extend social benefits to, in the short term, protect public health by making sure that every person who is not feeling well can afford to take sick leave, and, in the long term, protect the welfare of workers and the continuation of airline services.

The negative effects of precariousness in civil aviation have also become abundantly clear in this crisis. All workers need to be provided with the protections they deserve and precarious workers cannot be overlooked. Bogus self-employment is a growing issue in the industry and the lack of social security puts precarious workers in a terrible situation. Social protections need to be extended to them.

Transport has an important societal role and letting it collapse without a contingency plan for restoration is highly irresponsible and can have unpredictable consequences. It is unclear how long the crisis will last and when the demand for airline services will return. Governments need to protect the employment of civil aviation workers and support them during the time of a temporary fall in the number of flights. This is not the first time governments have been faced with immediate but temporary changes and they need to resist the urge to act without considering the long-term developments and having a plan for the future.

 

Economic measures

To ensure the economic viability of airlines that are struggling because of the effects of COVID-19, we propose several measures to ease the effects:

  1. Extension of loans to airlines, as they are currently experiencing a severe blow to the amount of money they have access to. Cancellation of flights is gravely reducing airline’s cash flow, which is to a high degree composed of pre-paid tickets, and therefore depends on future passengers. Extension of loans can help ease the pressure of paying back the loans immediately.
  2. Delayed payment of taxes, duties and other charges that airlines are obliged to pay.
  3. Subsidizing certain routes (and not directly airlines) by governments. We propose a temporary lift on the cap on the public service obligation, which would allow governments to offer subsidies for certain routes and prevent the collapse of entire air transport networks.
  4. Airport slots rules should be made flexible in combination with the guaranteed route operation. This measure would result in the protection of minimum services and guard the existence of air transport networks. These need to remain in place as regional connections would in many cases, otherwise be lost. In the case of the UK and Flybe, there is a severe lack of infrastructure that could replace many of these flights. Subsidizing of certain routes and protecting minimum services will also prevent the closure of smaller airports. Closures would put even more civil aviation workers out of jobs, ground handling workers in particular.

 

Restoring trust

Currently, EASA’s proposed measures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak are non-binding. This needs to change immediately to build the confidence of passengers, as well as to ensure the highest protection of the health and safety of the workers. If passengers are aware that all the airlines are required to follow the same procedures, they will have higher trust in the safety of air travel. At the same time, being aware of the high standards all airlines must comply with, the staff has a stronger position to demand that their employers comply and keep everyone safe.

 

Social dialogue

With all the current challenges the industry is facing, protecting civil aviation workers needs to be at the core of any strategy. Companies are going bust and leaving workers without jobs, while those that remain – in the air and on the ground – have been facing deteriorating working conditions.

ETF calls on all airlines to ensure that all the potential changes to their business are communicated to trade unions as soon as possible. Unions need to be involved in discussions about all changes that will affect the workers, be it about job losses or changes to the working conditions.

 

Solidarity to all the civil aviation workers and their unions. Our affiliates have been fighting for the rights of workers throughout these difficult times for the industry and will continue to do so. They have our full support in bringing these issues to the forefront on the EU level, demanding immediate and effective action.

 

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