EU-US Open Aviation Area: Pilots Present Their Position

With the EU-US negotiations on a transatlantic Open Aviation Area (OAA) likely to resume in early autumn this year, the European Cockpit Association prepared a detailed position paper, outlining its key concerns and demands. Posing both risks and opportunities for European pilots, the OAA will continue to figure high on ECA's agenda for this year and beyond.

In its position ECA supports the negotiations on an EU-US open aviation area, as they can help to re-balance the current unlevel playing field where European airlines and crews are disadvantaged on issues such as traffic rights and employment opportunities.

To rebalance this situation, ECA calls upon the EU to protect European interests when considering additional traffic rights to US carriers. We also call for wet-leasing on US domestic routes (which the US considers as cabotage, and therefore resists), for better access of EU pilots to the US employment market, and for state aid issues (incl. Chapter 11) to be dealt with in the negotiations.

Being committed to maximum levels of safety, ECA emphasises that any OAA must provide for effective safety oversight to avoid the emergence of "flags of convenience" exploiting low safety levels in certain parts of the OAA. Linking safety oversight to a company's Principle Place of Business is therefore crucial.

A key issue remains foreign Ownership and Control (O&C) of airlines. The EU has now decided to give more prominence to this issue. Being confronted with a 49% O&C regime in the EU, European pilots have followed closely the debate about increasing the US limit from 25% to 49%. But what EU pilots are really interested in are the potential social consequences of going beyond the 49% hurdle, when the "control" effectively kicks in.

Too little consideration has been given to such social consequences, so far, and an in-depth analysis is needed to move ahead. ECA therefore considers that moving from mere ownership to effective control (beyond 49%) is an issue to be tackled at a later stage, i.e. in a 2nd stage OAA agreement. Crucially, any such move beyond would only be acceptable as part of a wider package that includes solid safeguards for mobile staff in the new open area.

ECA has submitted these positions to both the EU negotiators as well as EU Member States, and to their US counterparts, in Washington. We are continuing the constructive dialogue with our friends from US-ALPA as well as stakeholders in the EU, and will pursue our internal work in ECA's External Relations Working Group.