Liberalising and Regulating Transatlantic Air Transport

When ECA’s President, Captain Martin Chalk, and ALPA International’s President, Captain John Prater, addressed the International Aviation Club in Washington DC earlier this month, it was only the second time an ALPA President addressed the gathering of industry leaders this century, and the first ever European representative of employees to do so!

Captain Chalk’s message was that the EU-US Stage 1 and 2 Air Transport agreements are both successful and groundbreaking in many ways, yet they are not complete and will eventually fail unless they are followed up with complementary regulatory changes.

Civil aviation is an infrastructure industry, and no developed economy can survive long without us. Capt. Chalk suggested that although international air transport agreements have articles improving safety, security, competition, etc., their prime function is the protection of a population’s access to vital aviation infrastructure. Economies which are not supported by strong communications infrastructure - including transport –are seriously handicapped.

Enabling the rest of the economy to communicate and trade must be appropriately regulated to ensure best service to the wider economy. From the Chicago Convention of 1944 to the creation of the EU single aviation market in 1997, aviation was very much a nationally regulated industry.

All national civil aviation systems previously had national civil aviation safety regulators; all had competition regulators, tax regimes, consumer protection, environmental and employment regulations. One of the assumptions which was true before 1997, but is no longer true, is that, e.g. airlines and their employees would know which regulations would apply to them. Yet since 1997 we have started to tear up that template and radically de-regulate our industry.

So the unique challenge for the negotiators of the EU-US ‘open skies’ agreements has been to preserve the vital role played by the various market regulators. They needed to ensure that the populations they served continued to have access to safe, secure, fair airline infrastructure, whilst the barriers which had assured this through national provision were removed.

Captain Chalk argued that the new pattern of liberalised agreements has not yet secured this. The current situation favours the cowboy operators over reputable airlines as they play one tax system off against another, set one regulator off against another, promote a race to the bottom when it comes to consumer and employment protection and therefore start to undo all that has underpinned the development of democratic, stable, free societies based on trade.

The vision and courage of John Byerly of the US Department of State and Daniel Calleja of the European Commission, who led teams which achieved a lot in the face of significant political obstacles was recognised. As an example, he emphasised the particularly unique and innovative articles on employment and social regulation, which legally ensure that growth flowing from the agreements benefits employees as well as the consumer, rather than potentially destroying their livelihoods and the professions they serve.

In conclusion, the call went out to address the need for appropriate tools. Tools which allow reputable airlines to operate to a clear, unduplicated set of rules on safety, security, competition environmental and consumer laws and deny the cowboys the ability to slide anti-competitively between the cracks. Tools to allow employers to have a clear, balanced ability to negotiate and agree changes to terms and conditions for employee groups which allow the airline and its shareholders, passengers AND employees all to benefit from the improved market access.

The alternative is the progressive loss of control over a vital slice of Europe’s infrastructure!