PROMINENT IFALPA MEMBER JAMES (JIM) PHILLIPS IS DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS AT ALPA IN GERMANY. HE WORKS FOR AIR BERLIN AS CAPTAIN A330.
During the last few years I have been having more concerns about our profession and whether we, the Professional Pilot Associations, are equipped to deal with the new challenges that we face as an industry.
Due to advances in technology, we have seen a decline in accident rates. There’s no argument over this benefit but technology is not the only change we have seen. Following the EU liberalisation in the 1990´s we experienced rapid growth, with new airlines opening (and sometimes closing) within one year.
Those airlines that have survived, did so due to ruthless strategies or operating in a niche market.
In Europe we have been battling to maintain a certain status for pilots. This status is not about our salaries but how we are viewed by management, governments and the traveling public.
The results of two studies commissioned by the EU, Ghent University and London School of Economics, have proved that European pilots do not feel respected by management and, even more shockingly, that more and more safety decisions made by flight crew are being questioned by their employers.
This, combined with atypical employment contracts where pilots have no rights, is making the following examples an almost daily occurrence in the EU.
- Justification being required when flight crew elect not to use Captain’s Discretion in extending their flight duty period.
- Pilots being reluctant to make fuel decisions – “I can always divert”.
- Pilots being interviewed by management after 3-4 sick days.
- Vacations and part-time arrangements being cancelled without notice.
- Terms and conditions in collective contracts not being honoured due to personnel shortages.
- Personnel planning stretched to a limit where the operation cannot function – even if all pilots are never sick, fly to the maximum flight/duty period and never take a vacation.
We are in the final stages of consolidation in Europe and pilots who did not retire at age 60 are entering retirement now at 65. This means that the excess of pilots which we have had for the last 15 years is slowly ending, but with what consequences?
We now have a pilot body which has been trained from day one, through atypical employment contracts, to keep a very low profile and are reluctant to make decisions, for fear of losing their jobs. Even those pilots who went through airline bankruptcies and managed to stay flying in Europe, are often reluctant to speak up and voice their concerns.
The Pilot Associations in Europe are working hard on many educational programs. These include:
- Lobbying government authorities and politicians.
- Educating young pilots just beginning their career.
- Educating flight students and cadets.
- Finding other partners who have the same or similar issues.
- Supporting studies to reveal the issues.
In this market, those who are active recognise the need for huge investment in the education projects; these often are not so much about funding issues, but more often lack of people to undertake them. If you have not yet been affected by such liberalisation, consider yourself lucky but also forewarned. In many international institutions, a push for complete liberalisation is ongoing and, through support of powerful lobbying bodies, like the tourism industry, they are successful in achieving their goals.
In Europe, we are pursuing many different ways of action at the same time, as we do not know where the most success will come and that there is no simple solution. My favoured action is to achieve direct employment for all safety personnel, this includes flight deck crew, cabin crew and key ground staff including maintenance.
Without the requirement of direct employment, dubious employers will continue to find loopholes and exploit workers where they can.
More than ever, we need solidarity amongst ourselves and to try and find partners with similar challenges. If we don´t stick together, even the best technology will not help keep our industry at the safety standard we enjoy.
To quote Michael Enzi “If you're not at the table, you're on the menu”.
Personally, I like to be at the table.