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Fair And Open Skies Act: Keeping Passengers Safe, Retaining Airline Jobs

H.R. 3632: Airline Unions, a Driving Force behind Your Safety

The Fair And Open Skies Act, known as US Government Bill H.R. 3632, is about a serious issue that keeps passengers (you) and crews safe in the air, as well as keeping U.S. airline industry jobs and U.S. airline companies strong.

Being handled behind the scenes at a high political bi-partisan level the Fair And Open Skies Act is all about two main points:

  1. Unfair business practices. Foreign airlines are stealing countless jobs away from Americans, right under our nose in our own country!
  2. The bill strongly contributes to pilot, flight attendant, and passenger safety of flight.

The Fair And Open Skies Act (H.R. 3632)

The legislation would prohibit the Department of Transportation (DOT) from issuing a permit to a foreign airline unless they determine that the foreign airline is not a “flag of convenience carrier”.

A “flag of convenience carrier” is “a foreign air carrier that is established in a country other than the home country of its majority owner or owners in order to avoid regulations of the home country”.

These flag-of-convenience schemes are typically used to reduce labor costs at foreign airlines flying in and out of the U.S.A.

These foreign airlines operate by avoiding U.S. taxes, labor laws, and safety regulations. Rather, they operate under foreign country-laws that are much less strict than U.S. regulation.

Previous attempt

A similar bill was introduced two years ago by Rep. DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The bill had 137 sponsors. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) eventually included the language of the bill, known as the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018.

The bill sought to remedy a decision made by the DOT in 2016 to allow flag-of-convenience airlines to operate in and out of the U.S. One such major carrier in focus at the time was Norwegian Air.

The particulars of the bill

The new bill would have secured the safety and job security of the U.S. airline industry for the future.

Rejection of a foreign airline’s application to seek open skies permission to operate in and out of the U.S. would take place if it contradicted the safety and employment interests of Americans flying or working within the U.S. airline industry.

The significant force behind this part of the bill was Congressman Drew Ferguson (R-GA).

The House overwhelmingly passed the bill just to be struck down from the final draft by the Senate.

What the new Fair And Open Skies Act (H.R. 3632) bill does

The bill specifies and clarifies how a multi-factor public interest test must be given consideration by the DOT before foreign air carrier permits can be issued.

The public interest test is being worded to see if a foreign airline is a “flag of convenience” or if it’s otherwise undermining labor standards that are not advantageous to U.S. workers and U.S. airlines. 

New foreign air carrier permits applied for by EU airlines and approved by the DOT must comply with the labor standards provided for in Article 17 of the U.S.-EU Open Skies Agreement.

Industry status

U.S. airlines currently contribute more than $95 billion per year to the U.S. economy from its international operations. It employs more than 150,000 workers.

Flag-of-convenience operations are rapidly popping up out of Europe and South America. If the trend is not being halted, we could be looking at a major global shift in airline operations. This could come at the expense of U.S. workers and increased safety concerns for our passengers.

The slick scheme of foreign airlines

A growth of “atypical” employment models are increasingly seen among foreign airlines. Airline employers are using a variety of (legal) schemes to invalidate their company-relationship with its pilots and flight attendants.

The airlines “arrange” these relationships by for instance misclassifying pilots as being independent contractors of their airline. Of course, this effectively undermines the right to collective bargaining and to form crew unions. Dismantling the traditional employee-employer relationship is playing dangerous games with safety, low pay, which attracts low experienced candidates, and poor (if any) benefits and unreasonable working conditions and work-hours.

About 15 percent of all pilots in Europe alone are under such an “atypical” employment contract.

The work rules these people operate under are in a quagmire of different counties’ work-laws and rules.

There is no room for a disorganized work structure to attempt to enforce procedures and rules in aviation. Disorganization, lack of uniform rules and procedures, and disregard for human factors can spell safety disaster for pilots and flight attendants. And don’t forget the two-hundred-plus or more passengers they are responsible for while flying across the Atlantic!

Bi-partisan government bill-support

The Fair And Open Skies Act was introduced by bi-partisan politicians of the U.S. Government. here are their names:

  • Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who took a major leadership role on H.R. 3632.
  • Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA).
  • Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Sharice Davids (D-KS).
  • Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit Rodney Davis (R-IL).
  • Congressman Drew Ferguson (R-GA).

July 10, 2019, U.S. Airline Union Leaders weighing in on the issue

Captain Joe DePete, President of Airline Pilots Association (ALPA)

ALPA The Fair And Open Skies Act

“ALPA has long opposed foreign airlines serving the United States with flag-of-convenience business models, which base different operations around the globe to avoid taxes, labor laws, and safety regulations and put U.S. airline workers at a serious competitive disadvantage. We are grateful to Reps. DeFazio, Larsen, Ferguson, and Davis for their continued leadership in helping to enact legislation that provides strong action to defend U.S. trade deals and protect fair competition for U.S. airline industry workers.”

ALPA is the largest pilot union in the world. It represents more than 62,000 pilots from U.S. and Canadian airlines. It was founded in 1931.

Capt. Eric Ferguson, President of the Allied Pilots Association (APA)

APA H.R. 3632

“Flags of convenience threaten the career prospects of pilots, flight attendants, and other employees across the airline industry, and that employment insecurity, in turn, threatens passenger safety.”

“Because they don’t directly employ their pilots but instead use third-party staffing agencies, flag-of-convenience airlines never develop a proper safety culture, since their pilots too often fear retribution for voicing safety-related concerns.”

APA is the largest independent pilots union in the U.S. They are an in-house union of American Airlines pilots, independent of ALPA. The union represents about 15,000 pilots from American Airlines. , including several hundred pilots on full-time military leave of absence serving in the armed forces. 

Sito Pantoja, general vice president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers

Machinist Union

“Flags of convenience have devastated working conditions in the maritime industry. We must do all we can to prevent these schemes, which are designed to avoid taxes, abuse lax safety standards, and exploit poor labor regulations, from infecting our airline industry. The IAM thanks Rep. DeFazio for his leadership role in this fight.”

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers is the largest airline union in North America, representing more than 100,000 airline workers.

Lori Bassani, national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants

APFA

“The Association of Professional Flight Attendants thanks Chairman DeFazio for introducing the Fair and Open Skies Act, a critical piece of legislation that would protect airline safety and uphold crucial labor standards.”

“We stand with our union brothers and sisters in advocating for this bill which would prohibit flag-of-convenience carriers from skirting labor and safety regulations that are meant to keep passengers and crew safe.”

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the largest independent flight attendant union, represents the around 28,000 flight attendants at American Airlines. 

John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union

Transport Workers Union

“Flag-of-convenience airlines threaten safety, drive down salaries, and worsen the passenger experience.”

“These airlines are yet another attack on airline workers by greedy airline bosses who care more about profits than they do about safety, fairness, or common decency.“

The Transport Workers Union has about 150,000 members. It represents the airline, railroad, transit, universities, utilities, and services sectors industries. 

Without the passage of the Fair And Open Skies Act

Are U.S. Airlines headed in the same direction as the U.S. maritime industry?

Without H.R. 3632, one can easily foresee the potential destruction of hundreds of thousands of U.S. airline jobs:

The U.S. maritime shipping industry took a nose-dive years ago. Before the flag-of-convenience business model came about more than 1,000 U.S.-flagged ships carried 25 percent of ships’ cargo in the world.

In today’s world, the U.S.A. only accounts for about two percent(!) of the global tonnage. The number of U.S.-flagged ships accounts for less than 200 ships.

Questions or comments? you can contact me here.

Featured image: ALPA Pilot Union Boss Captain DePete at the podium surrounded by ALPA leaders before the Fair And Open Skies Act press conference. Credit: Airline Pilots Association – ALPA

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