5 things Brussels’ newest airline association should be doing


The deadline for applications closed recently for a plumb new job in Brussels – the head of the new airline trade association representing Europe’s five largest airlines – AirFrance-KLM, easyJet, Lufthansa, IAG and Ryanair.

Following the tumultuous weeks before the summer that led to the fracturing of the airline association world in Brussels, the chosen candidate could be forgiven for wondering how she/he is going to bring the membership together to successfully advocate industry positions in Brussels. The timing for the sector is critical, especially with the European Commission currently preparing its Aviation Strategy for release in early 2016.

Reflecting upon the best practices we have seen with associations that FleishmanHillard supports, our transport team has identified five things that will be important for this new airline advocacy body to incorporate into its work.

aviation fh

1. Think beyond the traditional when it comes to airline positions

Traditional airline associations in Brussels have tended to focus on traditional airline issues, be it emissions trading, passenger rights, Single European Sky or state aid in the sector. Such industry specific issues will of course remain central priorities for the new association. However, policy-makers in Brussels, fixated on Europe’s future recovery and growth, are increasingly asking more of the major industry associations in Brussels than simply positions on core industry issues – a central role for the new association will be to convey its members’ vision for the future of the industry. Whether it be the digitalisation of services in the single market, the approach to multi-modal travel solutions or the future of carbon reductions for the industry, the new association will need to be able to convey forward-thinking and positive measures that mirror the agendas of the policy-makers themselves.

2. Leverage airlines’ national footprint in Brussels conversations on policy

The ability to collectively leverage the national influence that its membership provides will be a critical, especially as national interests more and more dominate the new Brussels environment. From the European Parliament, where MEPs and their offices are always alive to listening to their own national constituents, through to national ministry officials negotiating in Council working groups, the ability of the airlines to mobilise the national as well as European audience can serve well the advocacy goals.

3. Use channels that keep a drumbeat of conversation going with relevant policy-makers

At the same time as looking beyond traditional issues, the new association should also embrace the full span of channels with which to convey its messages. Meetings and events are important points in any ongoing advocacy activity, but increasingly, social media channels such as LinkedIn and Twitter allow the conversations with key policy makers to continue in-between those set-piece moments of engagement. A recent study by FH found that 61% of MEPs surveyed follow social media conversations daily in their legislative work. So to ignore such media would be to lose a huge opportunity in terms of conveying association positions.

4. Qualify contribution to jobs and growth beyond the sector

Growth and jobs are the centerpiece of the European Commission’s agenda. Under the new regime, Commissioners and Vice Presidents are litmus testing new initiatives against their contribution to jobs and growth. The aviation industry’s own contribution is well documented, most recently through ATAG’s Benefits Beyond Borders report. Such data will continue to be critical in underpinning the advocacy effort in Brussels, and demonstrating aviation’s “value add”. The sector’s positive impact of course spreads to nearly every corner of Europe’s economy – the ability of the new association to therefore harness the support of other industry sectors, that depend on aviation for their own economic well-being, will be key.

5. Deliver member value through bench-marking reputation and measuring improvement

A fresh start for an industry association provides a unique opportunity to put in place a robust system of performance bench-marking. Setting out and agreeing on a core set of measurable objectives will allow the association to clearly define its own success and calibrate its ongoing strategy. Doubtless a core aspect of the activities of the association will be to develop the reputation of the sector with policy-makers. Initially, and periodically henceforth, testing the policy-maker perceptions of the airline industry will allow a clear assessment of the ongoing effectiveness of the association in this regard.

Rob Anger