Airlines join forces to lobby for tax cuts and to limit strikes

Five of Europe’s biggest airline groups, including Ryanair, have joined forces for the first time to lobby the European Commission to cut taxes and reduce air traffic control strikes as part of the new aviation strategy being drawn up.

Air France KLM, Easyjet, International Airlines Group, Lufthansa Group and Ryanair are responsible for carrying around half of the passengers that took flights in Europe last year, and are competitors on many issues.

However, in what Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary described as an historic day, they have drawn up a list of areas on which they agree, including limiting the effect of air traffic controller strikes, ground handling, security services and flight paths.

However, they made it clear they were not aligned in one area the new strategy is to deal with, and that is atypical employment practices such as bogus self-employed contracts and crew with contracts in a country where they are not based.

Carolyn McCall of Easyjet would not comment other than to say they are not aligned on this, while Willie Walsh of IAG said they will focus on the areas where progress can be made.

“There are some issues we do not have agreement on,” said Mr O’Leary. Ryanair uses Irish contracts for most of its employees and contracts many of its pilots from outside companies.

Neither are they aligned on the issue of Gulf carriers — in the US United, Delta and American airlines have united against Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

They specified four areas they will jointly lobby the Commission on. These are a new simplified regulatory structure; reform of the Airport Charges Directive to lower costs charged by airports including for security; cut air traffic controller costs, reduce controllers’ industrial action and use research funding to enforce the single sky; and remove passenger taxes and “unreasonable environmental taxes”.

“We agree there is an inefficient airspace bedevilled by strikes. There is an average of 10 air traffic controllers’ strikes each year with more 3,000 cancelled flights this year”, said Mr O’Leary. He said binding arbitration on unions was needed.

He said he was not calling to ban strikes but to ensure it was not the first measure taken which should be binding arbitration and allow airspace to remain open when there is a strike.

On efforts to reduce carbon emissions, Carsten Spohr of Lufthansa said it would help if they were allowed to fly in straight lines rather than have to stick to rules that were devised before any of them were born.

“As the new transport commissioner prepares a new aviation strategy for Europe she must drive more competition, encourage more efficiency and help reduce costs in other parts of our industry (such as monopoly airports and air traffic control providers) and reduce the tax burden on passengers,” the group said.

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