The gig economy has spread to airlines with some pilots paying to fly planes full of fare-paying passengers.

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association is worried the ''atypical employment" model will spread around the world, including here, as liberalisation of air travel grows.

READ MORE:The gig economy: freedom or serfdom?

A paper released recently at the Global Pilots' Symposium exposed the practice, predominantly used by low-cost carriers in the hyper-competitive European market.

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Association president Tim Robinson said the pay-to-fly schemes were very worrying.

''Pilots are paying for all their own training their type rating - they go into an airline to begin to fly and they're having to pay for the privilege of getting their first 100 to 200 hours. They're paying for that while there are fare paying passengers in the back of the airplane." he told the Herald.

The normal airline-pilot relationship was breaking down.

''The reason we're seeing that more and more is because airlines are trying to drive down labour costs where the competition is extreme in Europe ''

An example was when an independent contractor at arm's length from the operator is not directly employed by the operator.

''They organise their own leave, their holidays, their training, their uniforms, their accommodation their type rating and if the airline decides they no longer need their services they can terminate that pilot and they have no job, " Robinson said.

In Europe there are 32 countries all with different laws, making it a fertile ground for atypical employment to get a foothold (with union jurisdiction ending at each border.)

In 2014:
•16 per cent of pilots were engaged in atypical employment
•40 per cent of LCC pilots were atypically employed
•39 per cent of pilots aged between 20 and 30 were atypically employed
•56 per cent of pilots made no decision about their working hours (that is, they had no discretion whether to extend their duty or not in the event of a disruption - they were told when they had to extend).

Robinson said there were concerns the arm's length relationships could spread here.

''It's really just isolated to Europe at the moment but it could spread to the global industry as competition increases and we need to make sure we keep a watching brief on that to see it doesn't creep into our region."

Flight attendants are also working by similar arrangements in Europe.

Belgium's Ghent University surveyed more than 6600 pilots of up to 70,000 pilots who fly in Europe.

While it found that there were benefits to greater liberalisation, the study also found that zero-hour employment schemes meant individual crew members were only remunerated for the duration of the flight.

One pilot said: "I have seen the pilot profession terms and conditions in Europe deteriorate constantly over the last 15 years. Today young people are tricked into the business by an industry advertising career content that does not exist anymore.

"The entire industry is in a negative spiral with decreasing conditions, salaries, standards and competence. Mostly because low-cost airlines sell too cheap tickets due to too tough competition, and many smaller ones go bankrupt but another one pops up just as quickly with even cheaper tickets and hence worse conditions for employees. This makes the larger airlines cut their prices and also lose money."

The Ghent study said that the employment arrangements while not explicitly illegal, were on the verge of being deemed incompatible with European provisions concerning employment.

"Additionally, as a result of abuse with respect thereto, which potentially amounts to social dumping vis-a-vis flight and cabin crew members, such atypical relations furthermore endanger not only the health and safety of those employed, but equally so the safety of air operations."