COVID crisis confirms need to start transition of aviation jobs to green sectors

January 28, 2022

A new study commissioned by T&E and Réseau Action Climat (RAC) finds that there is significant potential for reconversion of aviation jobs in sustainable sectors in France.

The COVID crisis has underlined the need for a transition to a sustainable future for the aviation sector. Technological solutions have been proposed by the industry as a means to decarbonise the sector but the effect of these solutions on future employment trends in the airline and aeronautical industries is mixed. While in the short term, the planned entry into service of hydrogen aircraft by 2035 could provide new opportunities for highly skilled engineering jobs, creation of production jobs will depend on the success of this new aircraft, the study finds, thereby offering only an uncertain future employment avenue. For the airline industry, the planes of the future aren’t likely to offer any substantial shifts in employment trends. 

Even under the most optimistic scenario, technology alone would not be able to reconcile the continuation of the pre-Covid traffic growth rate with the sector’s pledge of carbon neutrality by 2050This raises the question of a long-term future for aviation jobs in France. The study reveals that there is significant potential for external reconversion to more sustainable sectors, thanks to cross-cutting skills in both the aeronautics and aviation industries. 

The skills of aeronautics employees could be reconverted in six sectors, namely electricity, railways, health, energy retrofit, green energy and ecological agriculture. In France, the low-carbon electricity sector is recruiting, and could be suitable for aeronautics production workers for example. 

For the airline industry, two sectors have been identified as possible avenues of reconversion: the rail and health sector. The railway sector is one of the possible avenues of reconversion for pilots (cockpit crew), flight attendants (cabin crew) and operating personnel. However, the socioeconomic status of cockpit crew is not always comparable to railway staff, shedding light on the need to carefully plan the reconversion of high-skilled jobs to appropriate equivalent positions. 

The impact of the health crisis on employment in the French aviation industry is undeniable, yet it only confirmed existing long-term trends, a new study finds. Airline employment had already fallen by 17% over the last ten years, mainly due to corporate cost-cutting strategies and the emergence of low-cost airlines, which are less intensive in terms of human capital. In contrast, employment in the aeronautics sector had been on the rise before the health crisis, with a 30% increase over ten years.

In the airline sector, the jobs that were eliminated or furloughed during the crisis were those already targeted by job elimination plans before the pandemic. In the aeronautics industry, production staff, whose share of employment had fallen before the crisis, were particularly targeted by furlough schemes in France. The crisis confirmed an existing trend, namely the offshoring of some aeronautics supplier companies to low-cost countries.

The study highlights the seismic shifts happening within the aviation industry that will only accelerate as the sector, and the economy as a whole, transitions to its green future. As we build back better after the pandemic, the French government needs to offer adequate support for this momentous shift to the jobs of tomorrow.

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