Home / EU Sozialdialog / Sectoral ESD / Civil aviation / Participants and challenges

Participants and challenges

Civil aviation is one of the sectors where the social partners’ representative bodies are the most fragmented. The workers are represented by the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and, for cabin crew, by the ECA (European Cockpit Association). The employers’ organisations sitting on the Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee are ACI-Europe, the European region of ACI (Airport Council International); the AEA (Association of European Airlines), representing the major carriers; CANSO (the Civil Air Navigation Service Organisation) for the air traffic controllers; the ERAA (European Regions Airline Association); the IACA (International Air Carrier Association) which represents the leisure carriers; and the IAHA (International Aviation Handlers Association) which represents the independent ground-handling companies.

Although the Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee was set up in 2000, social dialogue in the sector dates back to the establishment of a joint committee in 1990, at a time when similar committees were formed in three other sectors facing a liberalisation or deregulation process. Since then, social dialogue in civil aviation has resulted in the production of a large number of joint texts, the vast majority of which are joint opinions geared to conveying the social partners’ points of view on sectoral policies pursued by the European institutions, particularly in the light of gradual liberalisation in the sector. These joint opinions relate to slot allocation, flight time, mutual recognition of licences, staff training, and so on.

The issue of working time also cropped up in the early 1990s, as the air transport sector was one of the sectors excluded from the 1993 "working time" directive. The social partners agreed in 1994 that the provisions of the directive must apply to ground staff, who at that time made up about 80% of the entire workforce (according to the Commission’s White Paper on the sectors excluded from the directive). For cabin crew, on the other hand, the situation is more complicated. Not until 2000 did the social partners reach a “European agreement on the organisation of working time of mobile staff in civil aviation”. This agreement was then implemented by a Council decision, which lays down maximum annual limits for flight times (900 hours per year) and for total working time (2,000 hours), as well as minimum numbers of monthly and annual rest days. A long-delayed renegotiation of the agreement is now under way.

Another major issue in the sector is the introduction of functional airspace blocks (FABs). For the record, the Single European Sky measures are designed to reorganise traffic circuits in European airspace by introducing common technical and procedural rules, promoting the development of a harmonised European air traffic management system and reorganising airspace into “functional airspace blocks” irrespective of national borders. The purpose of FABs is to make the European air navigation network operate more efficiently through joint regulation of air traffic. The social partners have tackled this issue within their social dialogue, giving rise to the adoption of several joint documents on the topic.

They have in addition turned their attention to aviation safety from a business culture perspective. The idea of fostering a “just culture” led to the drawing up of a declaration in 2007 and a recommendation in 2009 (the “Charter for just culture in aviation: European social partners’ charter for continuous improvement in aviation safety”). The social partners’ approach starts from the premise that public safety when flying is not served by punishing or prosecuting those who wish to disclose incidents they have witnessed or mistakes they have committed themselves. Reporting is vital to improving aviation safety by putting preventive measures in place. Thus the Charter lays down guidelines for companies to help them put in place a “confidential non-punitive safety reporting culture”. Disciplinary action should be contemplated only in cases of reckless action or the consumption of psychoactive substances. The Charter sets out the respective responsibilities of staff and management, as well as how to manage incident reports, both at the investigation stage and when considering a course of action once conclusions have been reached.

Two declarations have also been signed on the topics of health and safety promotion for air crew (2008) and training in the ground-handling sector (2005 and 2009). In the latter case the social partners undertake to draw up an autonomous agreement on best training practice within the EU.

Finally, it should be noted that various subjects and activities have regularly featured on the Committee’s work programme without so far having resulted in any joint texts: a skills map for air traffic management engineers, monitoring of sectoral policy and market observation in respect of ground-handling services, revision of the agreement on the organisation of working time of mobile staff, protection of private life and personal data, and “mobile staff and consolidation processes in the sector”.


ETUI and Observatoire Social Européen (2010) European Sectoral Social Dialogue Factsheets. Project coordinated by Christophe Degryse, online publication available at www.worker-participation.eu/EU-Social-Dialogue/Sectoral-ESD