In 1952, the Presidents of four European airlines – Air France, KLM, Sabena and Swissair – formed a joint research office, which later adopted the name Air Research Bureau. Shortly afterwards, British European Airways – one of the forerunners of British Airways – and SAS joined the group.
The six carriers established the Bureau on a permanent basis in 1954. Brussels was chosen as the headquarters of the organisation as a matter of geographical convenience, long before the capital was to become the focal point of today’s European Union.
Foundation of the agency, whose name was subsequently changed to the European Airlines Research Bureau (EARB), predated a recommendation of the 1954 Strasbourg Conference on Transport that states should co-operate, and encourage their carriers to co-operate, towards the orderly development of European air transport. EARB was recognised as the forum for inter-airline co-operation, while the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) was set up as the corresponding agency at intergovernmental level.
The facilities and opportunities offered by the association have attracted new members at a steady rate. In 1973, the 19 EARB presidents agreed to extend the organisation beyond its research-orientated roots into commercial and technical fields, and to rename it the Association of European Airlines. Later, a separate aeropolitical function was added to reflect the influences on air transport of political developments in Europe.
AEA has notched up many pioneering achievements. The association initiated developments which led to the Amadeus and Gallileo computer reservations systems and the magstripe technology for the application of automatic ticket and boarding-pass printers. The very topical issue of the need for an integrated European ATC network was first pinpointed by the AEA with its ‘Single Sky for Europe’ campaign, way back in 1988. AEA’s expert guidance was extremely influential in the formulation of the liberalised Single Market for air transport in the 1990s, and the EU-US Open Skies Agreement of the 2000s.
In recent years, AEA has kept pace with the evolving political landscape in which the air transport sector is situated. The Association’s primary focus nowadays is to act as a bridge between its members and the industry’s regulators, A major realignment in 2012-13 saw a more focused approach to policy facilitation and a more outward-looking approach embracing social media and the replacement of internal general Assemblies with an annual Leadership Summit with an external audience.