The European Civil Aviation Conference’s (ECAC) objectives under economic matters include developing knowledge expertise of major priorities and concerns of European stakeholders. Over the past 18 months it has become ever-clearer that social factors have had, and will continue to have, significant and wide-reaching effects on the industry, beyond the COVID-19 recovery period. While the links between social and economic matters are not new to ECAC, the pandemic and its wider effects on society, combined with an increased focus on the need for social sustainability in aviation, have led ECAC experts to consider this topic in closer detail.
ECAC Information exchange May 2023
The Economic Working Group and the Network of Chief Economists held their first informal information sharing session in May, choosing the topic of labour skills and shortages.
ECAC experts and observers representing the industry discussed experiences of airports and airline operators in facing shortages in skills, and what the root causes of these appear to have been. Unsurprisingly, where problems had been faced there were often a number of factors to take into account. Some of those factors noted during the discussion were: the effects of long lead-times for security clearances and the training for airport staff; a lack of focus on structural change (in order to address immediate, short-term issues) and increasing challenges to attract new staff and to retain existing staff.
It was recognised that across ECAC Member States there have been mixed fortunes in the performance of the aviation sector in different States over the past two years. Some aviation sectors declined significantly during COVID and continue to struggle to recover, whereas others saw their aviation sector quickly return to its previous strength after the pandemic. This also remains true when it comes to the extent to which States have been affected by staff and labour issues. While Europe has seen significant disruption to operations due to these factors, the effects have not been felt equally in Member States. Member States that were able to retain staffing levels or keep up some of their training programmes during the pandemic, found it less challenging to maintain skills and avoid labour shortages in 2022. Similarly, States where central government included the aviation sector in its wider skills and employment programmes have seen advantages for recruitment into the sector, such as being able to introduce skilled workers from abroad into vacant airport and other aviation sector roles.
Irrespective of the immediate effects, however, the meeting participants also highlighted that while it was not thought to be a current concern, more extreme shortages or poor labour supply could potentially raise safety issues, in addition to making it more challenging for the aviation sector to build its resilience or achieve sustainability and growth in the future.
In conclusion of the above information exchange meeting, ECAC’s economic experts agreed on the importance of continuing to monitor the social issues raised under this topic. It was recognised that within this topic there are political dimensions that may need to be considered more closely. Given the significant interlinkages between the sustainability of the aviation sector and its ability to effectively maintain – and where needed, enhance – high standards, diversity and equality for its workers, this topic will be considered for inclusion under ECAC’s existing objective to develop economic expertise in ECAC Member States.
There will be opportunity for aviation and non-aviation industry experts to discuss this theme more broadly with ECAC Member States, including hearing alternative views and further real-life experiences, during the first session – Social sustainability – meeting social expectations - of the ECAC/EU Dialogue being held in Valencia on 24 and 25 October. More information can be found on the ECAC website here.