The Board Members of the European Cockpit Association come from seven different countries, with different languages and different cultural backgrounds. But we have one thing in common: we are all seven active pilots, who fly aircraft all across Europe and the world. Maybe you have already been on board of one of our flights. Of course, we also have families & friends (even if we are not at home very often), and of course we want a bright future for our children and the children of our friends & family. So, when the time comes and one of these young enthusiastic people comes with a question: “Should I become a pilot?” – What do we say? “No” is the answer. And unfortunately this is the only possible answer today.
The industry has changed dramatically and so did our profession. The fierce competition and the hunt for ever lower costs turned into a race to the bottom – doing more flights with less crew, flying longer hours, hiring pilots at a low cost (e.g. via 0-hours contracts) or no cost at all (e.g. Pay-to-Fly, P2F). Or pushing young pilots into (bogus) self-employment and potentially illegal agency contracts. The harsh reality for pilots had become visible already a few years ago. Today, it’s clear what the magnitude of the problem is. Every day we read stories like this one – Paul, graduated in 2011, had to take €58.000 loan for 1000 flight hours on top of his already existing €100.000 pilot student loan. Or like this one – anonymous pilot who paid for pilot training and type rating, only to end up working as a “self-employed” pilot for a low cost company with no sick & holiday pay, and only paid for the hours in the sky. Atypical employment forms – although not always legal – are still spreading rapidly.
This has not gone unnoticed also in Brussels. A new report, recently adopted by the by the European Parliament (EP), mentions explicitly some of these practices such as P2F, atypical employment, bogus self-employment, precarious working conditions and – crucially – the additional safety risks they bring along. Some European countries, however, do not support the Parliament's point of view. I recently heard a statement from a representative of Ireland, who claimed that the percentage of atypical employment in aviation is still lower than in other industries, and therefore there is “no need to worry”.
I respectfully disagree. There is a need to worry. And these employment practices being on the “political table” today is a good sign. But we need a fix now. Otherwise soon no-one will be asking us the question whether to become a pilot. Because they will already know the answer: “Better not”.
by Capt. Dirk Polloczek, ECA President