Representatives from the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) are meeting with federal lawmakers and staff to encourage Congress to pass the bipartisan Fair and Open Skies Act aimed at preventing foreign airlines from undermining labor rights, safety and the competitiveness of the U.S. airline industry.
Nearly 100 pilot volunteers are meeting with lawmakers at ALPA’s 2021 legislative summit in a bid to maintain a level playing field in the aviation sector. The bill requires the U.S Department of Transportation to ensure that any new permit issued to a foreign airline operating between the United States and Europe is consistent with the existing requirements regarding fair labor standards and fair competition.
The legislation is intended to prevent new foreign airlines from exploiting “flags of convenience” i.e. registering in a country other than their main base of operations in order to avoid regulations or undermine labor standards. The bill is a bipartisan piece of legislation spearheaded by Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR).
ALPA President Capt. Joe De Pete has been vocal in his organisation’s support for the bill, saying it “enables the Department of Transportation (DOT) to cement the rights of U.S. workers in the basic structure of our country’s air services agreements.”
“Stronger worker protections have positioned the U.S. pilot workforce to help create and contribute to a risk-predictive safety culture that has made the U.S. air transportation system the safest in the world,” he added.
ALPA pilots are calling on lawmakers for support in requiring the DOT to apply its public-interest test to foreign air carrier permit applications. Specifically, the union would like to see European Union airlines that apply for permits comply with the U.S.-EU Open Skies Agreement labor conditions.
According to ALPA, the ‘flag of convenience’ business model threatens to put more than 150,000 jobs in the airline sector at risk, undermining the US aviation industry in a similar manner to how maritime shipping suffered from cargo companies registering abroad.
Capt. De Pete has further warned that such practices “erode the dignity of work while jeopardizing union workers’ contribution to safety and the critical role that collectively negotiated agreements play in creating a professions that attracts new aviators.”
As president of ALPA, De Pete represents the largest pilot union in the world, with over 59,000 members at 35 U.S. and Canadian airlines.
Controversy over flags of convenience in the airline sector first arose in 2016, when Norwegian Air won permission to fly to the United States. The airline, which has since gone bankrupt, chose to operate under Irish law despite its Norwegian homeland.
This made Norwegian Air subject to less strict labor and safety laws, giving the airline an unfair advantage in the U.S.
At the time, Rep. DeFazio called the model “a plague” and vowed “we are not going to allow [foreign] airlines to subvert labor laws."