A DAMNING report which warned that the growth in zero-hours contracts for pilots was putting passengers at risk highlights the need to crack down on the employment loopholes abused by the aviation industry, a Scottish MEP has said.
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Alyn Smith, of the SNP, condemned the trend away from permanent contracts for pilots, especially among some of the major low-cost carriers.
The report, 'Atypical Employment in Aviation', warned that the rise in irregular contracts was fuelling job insecurity and fatigue among staff, which in turn jeopardised safety.
Alyn Smith, one of Scotland's six MEPs and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, said the report was "deeply worrying" for passengers who use budget airlines including Ryanair, Wizz and Norwegian - which were named among the worst offenders.
Nearly half of pilots working for low fares airlines in Europe were on temporary contracts, self-employed, or recruited via agencies, according to the European Commission-funded study by Ghent University, in Belgium.
The practice enables carriers to slash their labour, pension and tax liabilities.
The report was based on an anonymous online survey of 6,633 pilots which revealed that one in six working in Europe is now employed on an "atypical contract".
This can include zero-hours conditions or pay-to-fly schemes that require novice pilots to shell out around £20,000 in upfront training fees while they work.
Easyjet, Jet2, and Spanish budget carrier Vueling rated comparatively highly with 80 per cent of their pilots being directly employed by the airline.
In comparison, some 63 per cent of pilots at Norwegian, which flies from Edinburgh airport, were recruited on temporary contracts via agencies.
At Ryanair two thirds of pilots were on atypical contracts, including 27 per cent who are self-employed and 10 per cent on temporary contracts.
The picture was similar at Hungarian carrier Wizz Air, which flies from Glasgow and Aberdeen. Half of Wizz Air pilots were on atypical contracts, with more than one in five self-employed and 15 per cent on temporary agency contracts.
The report states that the drive for profits in a fiercely competitive industry, coupled with "fading job security", meant that airline crew "are expected to perform beyond what is reasonable" with long flight hours, irregular sleep and work patterns and stressful night duties.
Among those questioned, 856 topped up their incomes with second jobs - nearly half of those working outside the airline industry.
The report refers to separate research by the European Cockpit Association which exposed the "prevalence of pilots and co-pilots who doze off mid-flight, as well as increased errors as a result of fatigue".
One pilot quoted anonymously said the lack of crashes was due only to auto flight systems which "are so reliable these days that the appalling standards of training and the tiredness and generally abysmal levels of morale can be hidden by the perceived current safety record".
Mr Smith said: "The scale of this problem is getting worse and must be addressed. Some of the worse cases highlighted, such as Norwegian Air, fly from Scottish airports and carry Scottish passengers.
"Not only is this clearly unfair on the pilots themselves but the safety concerns are deeply worrying.
"We need immediate action to tackle this and I call on both the UK and the EU to take action."
Richard Toomer, spokesman for pilots' union Balpa, added: "There is a real issue here of atypical employment practices in certain airlines across Europe. There is a clear role for the EU to further regulate employment law in this regard so that there is a level playing field amongst airlines.
"Airlines with good employment practices should not be penalised for that by having to compete with airlines which use exotic employment models to get around their social responsibilities.
"This must stop."
A spokesman for Ryanair said its does not comment on "false claims and anonymous surveys".
Wizz Air and Norwegian did not respond to requests for comment.