EASA: European pilot certificates only, please!

April 9, 2012

In a move that had been in the works for years, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA—the European Union’s equivalent of the FAA) took a major step in revamping its flight crew licensing (FCL) regulations. The new rules, which went into effect April 8, officially end the reciprocity agreements that have existed for decades between Europe and the United States. Where once an American—or any other non-European-certificated—pilot could fly to Europe, have the authorities quickly recognize the validity of a U.S.-issued pilot certificate, and fly general aviation airplanes with minimal hassle, he or she must now face the end of such privileges.

Now, non-Europeans must jump through numerous bureaucratic hoops. These include enduring a series of written tests and checkrides. The good news is that thanks to efforts by AOPA-US and the AOPAs in Europe the full-blown regulations—the ones that must be completed in order for non-European-certified pilots to earn fully equivalent, European Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) pilot certificates—don’t kick in until a two-year grace period elapses. Americans and other non-Europeans seeking to fly in either the United Kingdom or Germany can apply for a validation of their certificates under less-restrictive rules, until 2014, when the new rules come into full effect.

For VFR flying in Germany, for example, the validation rules in the grace period involve passing written exams on aviation law and human performance. Each test has 100 questions, and some 10 hours of study will usually be needed to prepare for each of these exams. Then comes an EASA-endorsed medical exam, a background check for security purposes, and a test of your English proficiency. You also have to prove you have at least 100 hours flying time in the category of aircraft you intend to fly. Finally, there’s a checkride—which must be carried out in an airplane operated by a flight school.

An IFR validation involves additional written exams on meteorology and flight planning, plus proof you’ve logged 100 hours of flying time as pilot in command under instrument flight rules.

These new European validations are valid for one year only, and nonrenewable. After the year has expired, pilots seeking flying privileges will have to earn JAA certificates and ratings. For non-Europeans wanting to fly in the rest of the 25 nations in the European Union, the rule mandating full JAA certification apparently kick in immediately.

However, rules can always be changed, and the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA) is working hard to secure liberalization of the new regulations. AOPA-Germany and AOPA-UK have already demonstrated an impressive persuasive power, as evidenced by the temporary validation clauses for those two nations.

Craig Spence, AOPA vice president of operations and international affairs, said, “AOPA-US has been working with the FAA, and the AOPAs in Europe have been working with EASA to make sure that pilots continue to have the right to fly. The bottom line is yes, the rule goes into effect, but each nation has a two-year grace period to implement it. AOPA-US and the AOPAs in Europe continue to fight this battle on several fronts.”

The new rules will have a potentially massive effect on American flying schools that cater to European students. For years, Europeans having been coming to the United States to earn U.S. pilot certificates at prices thousands of dollars less than what it would have cost had they learned in Europe. Then they return to Europe and fly N-registered aircraft. Now, American flight schools will presumably have to alter their curricula to conform to EASA standards.

European pilots, many of whom have benefitted from reciprocity, are justifiably concerned and upset by the new rules. To get a taste of the sentiment and a sense of the full-blown JAA pilot certification requirements, read the editorial by Jan Brill, editor in chief of Germany’s Pilot und Flugzeug magazine, a popular monthly that caters to a wide GA audience.

Stay tuned for future news on this controversial proposal and its fallout.