08 April 2018 was supposed to be a key date for adoption of new pilot training and licensing regulations across Europe, but procedural delays at the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have meant that most of these regulations are now being rolled back and National Aviation Authorities are having to postpone their implementation plans.
For individual pilots, the largest impact is the requirement to hold an EASA PPL (also known as a Part-FCL PPL) in order to be permitted to fly EASA aircraft. Excluding most kit aircraft, home-builts, microlights, warbirds and ‘orphaned’ aircraft (aircraft whose manufacturer no longer exists), EASA aircraft make up the bulk of the UK’s 20,000 strong General Aviation fleet.
According to the UK Civil Aviation Authority there could be as many as 6,000 pilots in the UK who still hold only a national PPL, rather than a European licence, and from 08 April they would have been limited to flying non-EASA aircraft (known as Annex II aircraft) until such time that they had converted their licences to European equivalents. The 6,000 figure is an estimate by the CAA as they do not know how many of these UK PPL holders are currently active, although the Authority still believes that the number is significant and it has been promoting awareness of the new licensing requirement in a bid to prevent pilots being grounded or inadvertently breaking the rules once the new regulations come into effect.
Now that EASA has confirmed that it is delaying the publication of the licensing amendment to its Aircrew Regulation, the UK CAA has introduced an exemption to allow UK General Aviation pilots to continue to fly EASA light aircraft under existing national pilot licensing and medical certificate arrangements. EASA has advised its Member States that they can issue a temporary exemption to allow existing national pilot licence and medical arrangements to continue after 08 April 2018 and the CAA has confirmed that the UK postponement will last for two months up until 07 June 2018, although there remains the possibility that this could be extended further.
The exemption will enable GA pilots holding appropriate UK national pilot licences and medical certificates (but not currently medical declarations) to fly certain EASA GA aircraft with Light Aircraft Pilot’s Licence (LAPL) privileges in UK airspace, but without holding an EASA pilot licence. The CAA advises that this mostly affects fixed-wing pilots as an EASA helicopter type rating can only be added to a Part-FCL pilot licence and not a UK national licence. After 07 June 2018, pilots with national PPLs only will either have to possess an EASA/PART-FCL licence, or be limited to flying Annex II aircraft only. Unless, of course, EASA fails in the interim to complete the amendment to the Aircrew Regulation and the CAA enacts another postponement.
How to check if an aircraft is an EASA type
Go to the CAA’s G-INFO website (https://siteapps.caa.co.uk/g-info/) and enter the registration of the aircraft you wish to check.
Under the main heading ‘AIRCRAFT DETAILS’ look for the sub-heading ‘EASA CATEGORY’. If the aircraft is described as being a ‘CS’ aircraft – for example ‘CS-23B : Utility Category Aeroplane’, it is an EASA aircraft. A non-EASA aircraft is described as ‘NON EASA’.
You can also check the COFA / PERMIT information on the same web page.
The CAA is reminding pilots that the continued use of UK National pilot licences under this exemption is restricted to LAPL privileges only and is restricted to UK airspace. If a pilot wishes to fly an EASA aircraft with full PPL privileges, they will need to hold a valid Part-FCL PPL. Pilots towing or flying aerobatics within LAPL privileges may continue to do so, the CAA confirms. It is not known whether this temporary arrangement will be extended past 07 June 2018, but the CAA says that it will update its website and publications once further details become available.
The CAA is meantime keen to emphasise the flight restrictions in place for national PPL holders flying EASA aircraft after 08 April. The LAPL restrictions for fixed-wing pilots include an aircraft maximum take-off mass of 2,000kg or less, and carriage of a maximum of three passengers, such that there are never more than four persons onboard the aircraft. For helicopter pilots the restrictions are the same, with an additional restriction to single-engine aircraft.
The other key change that was meant to come into effect on 08 April was the conversion of PPL flying schools from national Registered Training Facilities (RTFs) to EASA training organisations, becoming either Declared Training Organisations (DTOs) or Approved Training Organisations (ATOs). As reported previously in FTN, the ATO concept was considered by many to be overly burdensome for schools teaching recreational pilot licences and ratings only, given the step change in regulatory oversight and additional cost that becoming an ATO would entail. The UK, in the form of both the regulator and the GA industry, was instrumental in convincing EASA to introduce the DTO concept as an alternative to ATOs, reducing the regulatory requirements and cost down to a level that is more proportionate to the type of training that a PPL school provides, but the DTO concept has now also been subjected to delayed implementation.
The problem that this creates for some schools is that aside from the EASA PPL and LAPL licences, RTFs are not permitted to train pilots towards the grant of any other EASA ratings, for example the EASA aerobatic rating, until such time that they have become some form of EASA-recognised training organisation. The only EASA training organisation option available to RTFs at the moment is the ATO, which is a significantly more complex and costly process than becoming a DTO. Thus, RTF flying schools are currently unable to add new courses to their books and are effectively being held in limbo until the DTO concept is enacted. Additionally, new flying schools entering the market are also compromised by the delay, in that they currently have no option but to become an ATO.
The continued delay to implementation of new EASA regulations is causing another issue for the GA community, in that individuals and organisations are now weary of ‘early-adopting’ new EASA rules given that so many have subsequently either been amended, delayed or revoked. Before the DTO concept was proposed, European schools were told that they would all have to become ATOs, and a number of RTFs converted early on, only to then learn that a cheaper and less regulatory burdensome option had been proposed. Likewise, delays to deadlines of mandatory equipage of aircraft with Mode S transponders and 8.33kHz spaced radios, has led to some aircraft owners being weary of becoming early adopters of new regulations, as they fear that subsequent changes to regulation may end up meaning that they will have wasted their money.
These changes are, of course, all being enacted against the backdrop of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, which adds another level of uncertainty to the future regulatory oversight of Britain’s aviation industry. The CAA certainly seems to think that the UK will remain a member of EASA following BREXIT, but the exact format remains unclear and this can only add to the general climate of uncertainty.
In response to a recent article by the Financial Times, titled ‘MPs warn of BREXIT damage to UK aerospace’, outgoing CAA CEO Andrew Haines said: “Both the Government and the CAA have been clear that our collective preference is to remain a member of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) once the UK formerly withdraws from the European Union. The international nature of aviation regulation has improved safety outcomes for passengers, and it is important we retain as much influence as possible in this global system.
In a speech I gave in September 2017, I was clear that I believe the UK should not be planning for a new independent aviation safety system. If continued membership of EASA is unachievable, we should adopt the existing EASA regulatory system, rather than developing a new framework from scratch. This option is available to any third-party country, and is one that, I believe, would provide clarity and certainty for the aviation industry.”
If continued membership of EASA becomes unachievable, and the UK instead adopts the existing regulatory system, then there is one final sting in the tail. Whatever regulations the UK adopted would be incomplete, given that EASA has struggled throughout its existence to produce legislation that hasn’t subsequently required significant amendment and revision. The UK would therefore inherit an incomplete rulebook and industry would be subject to further delays whilst the CAA sets about revising it. Whether that would be any better or worse than the existing EASA situation (and the JAR system that went before it) is a topic of considerable debate in an industry that has expended so much money and effort in the last 20 years trying to comply with ever-changing aviation regulations.