AEA traces its history back to 1952, when the Presidents of Air France, KLM, Sabena and Swissair formed a joint study group, shortly afterwards expanded with the addition of BEA (a forerunner of British Airways) and SAS.
In February 1954, the Air Research Bureau was established on a permanent basis, in Brussels. The name was subsequently changed to the European Airlines Research Bureau and - in 1973 - the AEA.
Shortly after the ARB was established, the 1954 Strasbourg Conference on the Coordination of Transport in Europe led to the foundation of ECAC and recommended that participating states encourage air carriers to undertake cooperative studies aimed at promoting an orderly development of air transport in Europe. Evidently, the AEA was well-placed to be the industry’s representative in dialogue with ECAC.
By the time the AEA name was adopted, membership had grown to 19. There were three standing committees: Research and Planning, Airline Industry Affairs, and Technical Affairs, which was formed when a pre-existing industry body (the ’Montparnasse Committee’) was absorbed into AEA.
The next major change took place in 1983 when the (then) Commercial and Aeropolitical Committee was divided, in recognition of the growing involvement of the EU in air transport matters. This involvement was formalised in 1986 when air transport was confirmed as being subject to the single-market process.
In the mid-1980s, the Association acquired permanent groups in the fiscal, security and in-flight services fields. To these was added, in 1991, an Infrastructure Group.
Another overhaul occurred in 1994, with the establishment of five standing committees, including Infrastructure & Environment and Social Affairs. Research & Information and legal matters acquired the status of support functions.
In 2002, the AEA Presidents determined that the AEA should become an airline-driven lobbying organisation. To achieve this end, the statutes were amended. One major change was that the Presidents would set annual objectives for the Association. The Presidents’ Committee, enlarged by two additional members to now twelve, was given the additional task of monitoring the progress of the association in achieving the set objectives. Furthermore, the Presidents modified the criteria for entry and exit into the association to reflect recent market developments. These far-reaching amendments to the statutes were formally approved in May 2003.