EU poised to vote on pilot certification

Pressure mounts to ‘park’ the issue

October 5, 2010

With the European Union Commission nearing a vote on adopting EU-wide pilot certification rules, AOPA is warning that the package—which does not include acceptance of third-country pilot credentials—would erect trade barriers with consequences felt in the U.S. flight training and manufacturing sectors.

The EU Commission is set to vote following a hearing scheduled Oct. 13 through 14 on a package of flight crew licensing rules put forth by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). In 2008, EASA undertook certification revisions that would supersede member nations’ procedures for the conversion of U.S. pilot certificates.

If passed into law, the proposal would adversely affect U.S. flight schools that train foreign pilots, as well as pilots coming to the United States for training. Pilots who complete their flight training in the United States would be required to repeat most of the exact same training upon returning to an EU state, and it would render the FAA instrument rating useless in Europe. U.S. aircraft manufactures and flight training schools will suffer from a downturn in business from Europe as it is unlikely anyone would invest getting a U.S. aircraft or license which lasts for one or two years, said Craig Spence, AOPA vice president of operations and international affairs.

Pilots holding certificates of nonmember countries would be required to take EASA’s Air Law and Human Performance exams, hold a Class 2 medical certificate, demonstrate language proficiency, fulfill the requirements for issuance of a type or class rating relevant to the privileges the pilot holds, have at least 100 hours of pilot-in-command time in the relevant aircraft, and pass private pilot skill tests.

AOPA stated its concerns about the proposal to EASA’s Cologne, Germany-based rulemaking directorate in written comments in February 2009. The association pointed out that the changes would negate the value of flight training in non-EASA countries, including the U.S.

“Flight training in the U.S. is done because most EASA countries do not have the extensive infrastructure to provide the flight training to would-be pilots. Currently, people seeking a pilot’s license can complete their training in the U.S. and return to an EASA country and easily exchange their U.S. certificate for an EASA license. The proposed changes would eliminate that option,” AOPA wrote on Feb. 27, 2009.

The International Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (IAOPA) is expressing alarm at the impact facing pilots and aircraft manufacturers. “To fly an aircraft in Europe, no matter what the country of register, would require an EASA licence, and if applicable an EASA instrument rating, if you were domiciled in Europe. A stop-gap validation on a non-European licence would be available from national aviation authorities, valid for one year,” it explained to members in a special message. IAOPA Senior Vice President Martin Robinson said that late efforts were being made to persuade the EU to “park” the issue until the impact could be re-examined. He described the EASA proposals as “a smokescreen for political chauvinism.”

“The safety benefit will be zero,” he said.

Paul Fiduccia, director of government and industry affairs at Cirrus Aircraft, was among aircraft manufacturers voicing concern. “We hope that the U.S. government can communicate with counterparts in Europe to delay action on this until analysis of safety and the economic impact of this proposal are completed,” he said in an interview.

Like other manufacturers, he said, Cirrus sells “a substantial percentage” of its aircraft to customers in Europe.

“A Cirrus is best operated by a pilot capable of flying under instrument flight rules. It adds to safety of the operation and the utility of the airplane.” European instrument rating requirements “go far beyond what’s required for safety of operation, and require so much time and investment by pilots that very many of them prefer to operate their aircraft under U.S. pilot certificates and instrument ratings,” Fiduccia said.

AOPA, in its February 2009 filing, also reminded EASA that the U.S. system of flight training has long set the training standard worldwide. AOPA stressed that the potential regulatory and trade consequences demonstrate the urgent need for a bilateral agreement on acceptance of pilot certification. Differing philosophies about training aside, both groups share a key goal: that of developing safe pilots. “For this reason, AOPA-US urges both EASA and the U.S. to formalize a bilateral agreement to reconcile the differences between this rule and the current U.S. rules regarding fight training. AOPA-US believes that U.S. and European licenses should be accepted in either direction with a minimum of additional requirements.”