Aviation is a strong driver of EU economic growth and jobs. Since 1992, when progressive implementation of the single aviation market began, the air transport market in Europe has undergone many significant changes.
In 2017, the EU not only celebrated 25 years of its internal market for aviation, it also declared the European Pillar of Social Rights. This is an EU success story, and the success of the EU’s aviation market was made possible by the many Europeans who work and serve in the sector every day. By making it easier and cheaper to fly, the internal aviation market has brought Europeans closer to each other and connected them better to the rest of the world. In 2019, over 1.1 billion passengers travelled by air within, from or to the EU.
The EU has harmonised air transport rules, guaranteeing that all operators, wherever they are located, have the same access to the air transport market. However, social protection and labour law remain primarily a Member State responsibility. This means that while all aviation staff benefit from the protection offered by EU law, they may enjoy different rights and levels of protection according to the national law that applies. This situation can be particularly challenging for aircrew (i.e. cabin crew and pilots) due to the cross-border nature of their job.
In 2015, the Commission presented an Aviation Strategy for Europe, which highlighted that the social agenda in aviation is a priority. The Commission has since acted on all of its commitments, including through the sectoral social dialogue committee on civil aviation.
For further insight into aircrews’ employment and working conditions, the Commission in 2017 contracted a study on these topics (the 'Ricardo study'). This study analysed the key issues identified by European aircrew organisations, while seeking to improve legal certainty for mobile aircrew. In the context of the evaluation of the Air Services Regulation, the Commission is also assessing any unintended social impacts of this legislation, notably on working conditions.
The same year, the Commission published a ‘Social report’ taking stock of the progress made on social issues affecting aircrews, and reviewing the main opportunities and challenges for aircrews today. It builds on the findings of the Ricardo study and identifies concrete actions for a stronger social agenda in aviation in the short term.
The setting up of the Expert Group on social matters related to aircrews in 2019 was one of the Commission’s most significant initiatives to tackle social issues in aviation. The Commission, together with Member States, is committed to the work of this expert group, which is identifying best practices to ensure a level playing field and good working conditions. It is also drafting recommendations on improving the Union’s social agenda. In doing so, the group is taking the COVID-19 pandemic into consideration. The results of the work, which take the form of informative papers, can be found in the Commission Register of Commission Expert Groups.