EASA lightens up on certificate conversions

April 19, 2012

From day one at Aero Friedrichshafen there’s been much talk about the European Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA’s) latest rules regarding the conversion of pilot certificates to a set of newer, more stringent standards. Under the new rules, which went into effect April 8, European pilots certificated under the earlier rules set up by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) have to comply with the new Joint Airworthiness Authority (JAA) rules. That means taking a slew of new written tests, a flight check, and a new medical certificate. All of this in the name of standardizing all of the European nations’ variously issued certificates under one license.

But there has been much confusion. The new rules have been understood in many different ways—many of them incorrect—and rumors abound. In an effort to clear the air, so to speak, EASA called a press conference that sounded a conciliatory tone. Entitled “Better Regulations for GA,” EASA’s presentation emphasized that each of the European Union’s 27 participating nations have the opportunity to temporarily opt out of applying the new rules. Turns out that “temporary” has several meanings. Stick with me here, because we’re about to tread—lightly—upon EASA’s massive bureaucratic landscape.

First comes the “20-day rule,” which kicked in the day after April 8. As I understand it, the original April 8 rules don’t really take effect until these magical 20 days pass. Then it’s official—unless a member nation decides to opt out of adopting the rules, in which case it has until April 8, 2013, to fall in line. This time frame gives pilots an extra year to take the tests and otherwise comply with the new rules.

But wait—there’s another opt-out period for those nations wanting to participate. This one applies to what EASA calls LAPLs (light airplane licenses—the kind you and I possess). This opt-out period lasts until April 8, 2015, and gives general aviation pilots two years to comply. Airline pilots both domestic and foreign are not affected by the new rules, by the way; they have their own sets of rules.

Here’s the kicker: EASA admits that it doesn’t know who has already opted out under the 20-day or two-year grace period provisions. “We haven’t had time to assess the situation,” an EASA official said. “It’s too soon.” So yet another deadline applies for declaring an opt-out either by April 8, 2013, or April 8, 2015. This declaration to opt for the opt-outs kicks in on June 8, 2012. “Then we’ll know who has opted out,” EASA said.

Clear as mud? I feel your pain. But the bottom line is that it will be quite some time before the new rules are official, with the exact time depending on which date a member nation has chosen as an opt-out period. You can thank the European AOPAs for all these delays. “If this keeps up,” one official of a European AOPA said, “we’ll be able to keep putting off this rule based on the increasingly negative feedback we’re voicing to EASA. EASA says this is all to improve safety. But we tell them, how do you measure this? And why is there such conviction that simply adding more oppressive rules will translate into a safer flying environment?”

Last but not least, there’s been great concern that those with U.S. pilot certificates will not be able to fly in Europe without going through the hoops and earning the new certificate. Not so, according to those in the know. The prevailing interpretation is that the new rules apply only to those “domiciled” in the European Union. In other words, those holding European citizenship or holding European passports. So if you’re an American planning on flying your airplane to Europe for a vacation, go right ahead. Living in a hotel room or renting a house in Europe doesn’t make you a European citizen.

Besides, EASA hasn’t established a means to enforce the new rules yet—for any type of citizen. Or any type of pilot for that matter. Neither has it published any handbooks, learning standards, or teaching materials that address the new certification rules. So until these new rules gel—and it looks like that will be later rather than sooner—the status quo will prevail. Unless a nation fails to opt out of one of the opt-out grace periods, that is. Stay tuned for news on any future developments and clarifications of what promises to be a monumental saga of rulemaking for rulemaking’s sake.

Sigh.