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As newly elected European Parliament settles in to face fresh legislative challenges and shape policies, social partners in civil aviation have called for decisive actions from the EU to stop the emerging threat in civil aviation: airlines seeking to fly under “Flags of Convenience”.  The group of employers & employees in European civil aviation condemned the phenomenon that destroyed the maritime sector in industrialised countries a few decades ago and warned against its consequences for aviation.

Flags of Inconvenience

According to the Joint Declaration, made on 5 June, the EU Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee – an official EU body of aviation stakeholders – expresses concerns with new “business” models of airlines, setting up branches and obtaining operating permits in countries without substantial aviation activities in that country and without planning to have any base within the EU. According to the Declaration such practices distort fair competition and harm the employment in the industry. The choice of establishment in a Member State to avoid the social laws of another country is in principle what defines a “Flag of Convenience”.

The declaration cannot be seen outside the context of Norwegian Air International (NAI) – the long-haul NAS subsidiary, registered in Ireland, aiming to operate between the EU and US and hire crews on temporary contracts from Thailand. While it has started operations from Bangkok to Europe, NAI has not been able to extend its operations to the US.

The Joint Declaration urges EU and Member States to review the current legislative framework (i.e. Regulation 1008/2008) to ensure that EU operating licenses can only be issued in the country where the operator has substantial aviation activities, including a substantial number of flights, crews and bases. Norwegian Air Intl. is a case in point why revision of this legislation is needed. The declaration calls also for co-ordination and revision of legislation on visas and work permits for non-EEA based crews to prevent any possible illegal use of foreign workers on board EU registered planes operating in or from the EU and to preserve European legal employment. 

Unlike the Social Dialogue partners, the EU Commission is still struggling to identify the lurking negative consequences of such “business models” for the aviation industry. Remarkably, departing Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas had gone even a step further by threatening the US authorities with legal actions in case decision to grant a foreign air carrier permit to NAI is put off. Advocating for a company that is breaching Europe’s ethical and legal principles signals a rare detachment from what is living in the aviation industry today. Given that the Declaration is issued by the Social Dialogue Committee, the only formal body of both the business and its European employees, it expresses the only genuine democratic European position:  Europe’s aviation industry is in desperate need of sustainable growth – and it could only be achieved on a level playing field. 

Social Dialogue Partners are organising a press conference on Friday 11 July at 11h in Brussels. 

Download the Joint Declaration & an info note