The planned launch in February of A4E, a new association for some of Europe’s airlines, is notable for a number of reasons.

First, it brings together European airlines on the legacy and low-cost carrier (LCC) sides. And the LCC members, easyJet and Ryanair, are not IATA members nor were they part of Europe’s AEA organization.

Second, the new organization sprung out of a major split at AEA last year when British Airways (BA), Iberia, Alitalia and airberlin exited.

Third, the Gulf carrier dispute is seen as the main spur of that split, but launch members of the new A4E, which include BA, Lufthansa and Air France-KLM, sit on both sides of the Gulf/liberalization viewpoints.

Meanwhile in the US, Delta exited A4A last year—a major loss for that association financially, although there are no signs of others following suit and the organization still looks strong.

And AAPA is well regarded by its Asia-Pacific airline members, but so far is unable to attract the region’s LCCs or the increasingly important Chinese mainland carriers, despite ongoing campaigns.

The Gulf dispute crept into IATA discussions even though the organization—quite properly—has no mandate to take sides of one airline or a group of airlines over another. IATA, of course, is far more than a lobbying association—it does things for its members which makes it both valuable and expedient.

But there may be a shift occurring in what airlines expect from their associations. The next IATA DG, and the leaders of the regional associations, will need to tread carefully.

If, for example, Ryanair were to join IATA, would that be with the aim of supporting common industry goals on issues such as safety, security, emissions trading, poor regulation and punitive fees? Or would it be to stir controversy and widen the divides that occurred last year on the Gulf carriers and liberalization?

Associations can and do bring value to their members, especially in an industry as regulated as this one and where new fees and taxes pop up like Whack-a-Mole, and lawmakers everywhere think they know best how to run an airline.

But associations must still demonstrate their worth daily and that requires their management teams to be nimble, responsive and adaptive. Never more so than in today’s environment where financial success has become sharply regional, with the large majority of profits being generated by North American airlines.  

And airlines, too, must do their part. The point of an association is to present a unified voice on cross-industry issues. That means reaching consensus to the good of all, including the traveling public.

To be an association member, airlines must do more than merely pay their membership fees. They must also pay their dues as good association citizens.