A warning about the growth of ‘flags of convenience’ by airlines and the implications on employees and safety is being made by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).

The issue is being raised at this week’s International Civil Aviation Organisation air transport conference in Montreal.

Icao needs to examine the impact of liberalisation on civil aviation workers and the safety and security risks of aviation ‘flags of convenience,’ according to the workers’ federation.

ITF civil aviation section secretary Gabriel Mocho said: “The ITF will be bringing its 65 years of experience in fighting the worst excesses of flags of convenience in shipping to the debate about the rise of flags of convenience in aviation. These have become increasingly visible and potentially risk undermining transparency, accountability and even safety.”

It argues that airlines are increasingly restructuring their operations to reflect classic maritime ‘flags of convenience’ scenarios.

“In the maritime sector, ships and fleets can be ‘flagged out’ to countries (including land-locked nations with no maritime tradition, like Mongolia) that offer tax avoidance, lower-cost safety and labour standards and conditions, and inadequate safety supervisory and inspection structures,” the ITF says.

“’Flagging out’ is generally driven by the desire to save costs (including paying lower taxes) or to escape effective regulatory control by the state in which the vessel or fleet is beneficially owned.

“It is the ultimate privatisation of regulation. If a ship-owner does not like what the regulator is doing, it quits the flag and find a more convenient or compliant one.”

The growing number of parallels in today’s civil aviation to traditional maritime ‘flagging out’ scenarios is striking, the ITF claims.

Offshore registries for aircraft exist and are growing in Aruba, Bermuda, Ireland, Malta, Georgia and Lithuania. Offshore registries for private aircraft also exist in the Cayman Islands, the Isle of Man, and San Marino.

The ITF adds that air transport workers have been used repeatedly and increasingly since 2000 as the “primary shock absorbers” for managing the effects of deregulation, liberalisation, the periodic business cycles and external shocks in the industry, often with “devastating” social consequences.