The industry has changed dramatically and so did our profession. The fierce competition and the hunt for ever lower costs turned into a race to the bottom – doing more flights with less crew, flying longer hours, hiring pilots at a low cost (e.g. via 0-hours contracts) or no cost at all (e.g. Pay-to-Fly, P2F). Or pushing young pilots into (bogus) self-employment and potentially illegal agency contracts. The harsh reality for pilots had become visible already a few years ago. Today, it’s clear what the magnitude of the problem is. Every day we read stories like this one – Paul, graduated in 2011, had to take €58.000 loan for 1000 flight hours on top of his already existing €100.000 pilot student loan. Or like this one – anonymous pilot who paid for pilot training and type rating, only to end up working as a “self-employed” pilot for a low cost company with no sick & holiday pay, and only paid for the hours in the sky. Atypical employment forms – although not always legal – are still spreading rapidly.
This has not gone unnoticed also in Brussels. A new report, recently adopted by the by the European Parliament (EP), mentions explicitly some of these practices such as P2F, atypical employment, bogus self-employment, precarious working conditions and – crucially – the additional safety risks they bring along. Some European countries, however, do not support the Parliament's point of view. I recently heard a statement from a representative of Ireland, who claimed that the percentage of atypical employment in aviation is still lower than in other industries, and therefore there is “no need to worry”.
I respectfully disagree. There is a need to worry. And these employment practices being on the “political table” today is a good sign. But we need a fix now. Otherwise soon no-one will be asking us the question whether to become a pilot. Because they will already know the answer: “Better not”.
by Capt. Dirk Polloczek, ECA President