The Social Dimension of Aviation Package: Ambitious or Hollow?

On 7 December, the eagerly-awaited Aviation Strategy was launched by the Joint Press Conference of Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič’ and Commissioner Violeta Bulc. The Strategy, in general, was welcomed by the industry as well as the European Parliament; yet, there are only a few, who would find the package satisfying.

Good or bad? Game-changer or insufficient?  Ambitious or hollow? These are just some of the questions stakeholders face. And though there is still some time until each party goes through the substantial pile of documents, it is already clear: the strategy falls short of expectations and of addressing the various dimensions of aviation with equal ambitions. It comes as no surprise therefore that only few parties welcome it while others are rather disappointed or even highly critical of the new initiatives. The truth is that the level of satisfaction greatly depends on where your priorities are set.

 

 

All sides agree that aviation is key to the European growth; but where opinions vary is whether the outward-looking commercial drivers are not coming at certain cost; namely, at the cost of failing to address the industry’s social concerns.

Commissioner Bulc is genuinely happy and proud while she portrays the Strategy as the result of an active cross-stakeholder collaborations delivered right on schedule. And she is right: the Aviation Package is an important step acknowledging the vital economical role of aviation. This is however only the big picture taken from a distance. Because when it comes to the social dimension of air transportation – and looking at the details – the package lacks ambitions and fails to offer any real solutions. The Commission has concrete objectives on one side: “aviation must grow in a sustainable manner.” But without balancing this out with concrete legislative measures on such issues as the problematic new business set-ups, flags of convenience, atypical forms of employment and Pay-to-Fly schemes, the tools to boost the sector’s competitiveness remain inadequate.   

 

Unquestionably, at first, the document is eye-catching as - among others - it outlines the need for “reinforcing the social agenda and creating high quality jobs in aviation.” Yet, it appears to stop here and not to go further than presenting an intention, and describing the status quo. The overall impression is that the commercial interest (e.g. tapping into growth markets via new external aviation agreements) outweighs the need for recognizing and offering tangible solutions over its social responsibilities.

Rebooting a dialogue around the social impacts is a good intention, but not a game-changer; it looks ambitious but remains insufficient, by conveniently delegating the initiative to Social Partners while renouncing the EU Commission’s right of initiative.  If Europe seeks to maintain its position as a competitive global player and doing so in the projected sustainable manner, then it needs to stop overlooking the pool of evidence demonstrating the key challenges aviation faces on a social level. Tackling these issues are just as important to the sector’s competitiveness as tackling the issues around external relations, investment, innovation & digitalization or the questions on safety and security.

But Commissioner Bulc is right when she says that only by working together can Europe deliver sustainable resolutions where“we are not an obstacle but a solution for the aviation”. Today, the industry builds on the promise that 2016 will be the year of delivery. However, it will also be the year for urging the EU Institutions to deliver and make the disregarded Social Dimension an integral part of the EU’s aviation policy as without this pillar, the aviation’s ‘eco-system’ simply can’t prosper.