ALPA Gears Up for Challenges of US-EU Talks

The United States and the European Union announced this week that they will resume negotiations in an effort to reach an U.S.-EU air services agreement. ALPA will serve as labor’s representative on the U.S. negotiating team.

The first round of those negotiations will begin in Brussels on October 17. If the two sides reach an agreement, it would replace the existing bilateral agreements between the United States and the individual EU Member States. A second round of talks is scheduled for the week of November 14 in Washington, D.C. 

The two sides have expressed their desire to conclude during that round a tentative agreement that could be presented to the European Transport Ministers for approval at their December meeting. If the ministers approve such a T/A, it would be sent to the Member States for ratification. The minister-approved agreement, however, would likely be put into effect while the ratification process (which could take several months or longer) is under way. 

ALPA is supporting the U.S. position that cabotage rights be excluded from any agreement. ALPA is opposing any change to the current ownership and control rules and also opposes granting permission to EU carriers to wet-lease aircraft to U.S. carriers. So that the flag-of-convenience problem can be mitigated, ALPA is asking the U.S. government to ensure that any agreement require (1) that an EU carrier be able to receive its air operators license only from the country in which it has its principal place of business and (2) that the labor laws of that place apply to the flight crew of that carrier. 

The starting point for the negotiations is the text of a June 2004 proposal except for a provision in that proposal that would commit the United States to seek to change to 49 percent the amount of voting stock of a U.S. airline that foreign persons could hold. Indeed, the United States has previously informed the EU that ownership and control will not be a subject for the next round of negotiations. Today, the United States announced, however, that while the topic will not be addressed at the table, the United States is “actively considering options to increase the opportunities for U.S. carriers to obtain foreign capital and to have greater involvement with citizens of countries with which we have an Open Skies relationship.” This consideration is taking place “at a senior level and as a matter of priority among all interested agencies in the Executive Branch.” 

Apart from the ownership and control issue, these talks present several items of concern to ALPA and to U.S. airline labor in general. First, the EU is asking for the right to wet-lease aircraft to U.S. carriers. The June 2004 proposal indicates that the United States is prepared to allow some form of wet-leasing on international routes. Second, in the negotiations leading up to the June 2004 proposal, the EU asked that the carriers of one side be able to carry domestic (i.e., cabotage) traffic of the other side. The United States resisted this request, and its proposal includes a provision that states that nothing in the agreement will allow EU carriers to carry US cabotage traffic and vice versa. 

Third, the U.S. June 2004 proposal contained a provision that would permit EU carriers to market services (and use their brands in unspecified ways) in the U.S. domestic market so long as the actual flying is done by a U.S. air carrier. 

Fourth, the June 2004 proposal would permit any EU carrier to fly from any point in the EU to any point in the United States. ALPA is concerned that this would create a potential flag-of-convenience problem because the EU does not have a single labor law, such as the Railway Labor Act, that applies equally to all European carriers. 

ALPA is working with the European Cockpit Association and the other European labor groups to try to reach common positions on the elements of the U.S. and EU proposals that are of concern to airline employees.