EASA’s eleventh-hour attempt to bounce the industry into accepting disastrous regulations aimed at killing off the N-register in Europe have shocked the aviation world and led to frantic last-minute moves to stop the Agency bulldozing new rules through the European Commission.
When the Agency finally showed its hand on the N-register it was through proposals on Flight Crew Licensing which will make it impossible for European citizens to fly in Europe on American licences, render worthless the FAA Instrument Rating and blow the bottom out of the market in N-registered aircraft. If they are adopted, the plans will force thousands of pilots to undertake new training courses costing millions of euros and slide the already-depressed used aircraft market into the mire. The safety benefit will be zero.
After years of discussion, the details became clear just two weeks before the EC was due to make a final decision on EASA’s proposals. IAOPA is asking the Commission to set the issue aside to allow time for its impact to be properly assessed.
The plans fly in the face of every assurance given by EASA’s principals that while they wanted European pilots to fly on European registers, they would properly address the reasons why they did not. EASA’s Executive Director Patrick Goudou promised in 2005: “We will ensure there are no special advantages to being on the N-register.” He has not kept his side of the bargain. Few of the compelling reasons why European pilots are driven into the arms of the FAA have been addressed, and those that have been looked at have been skimmed over in a desultory and unsatisfactory way.
EASA’s claimed motivation for attacking the N-register is safety, but that is a smoke-screen for political chauvinism. Aviation is a trade battleground between Europe and America, and pilots and owners are caught between the trenches. There has never been any evidence, or even any credible claim, that the N-register is unsafe. With this move, EASA has gone far beyond its safety remit and stepped completely into the realms of political protectionism.
IAOPA-Europe met in Amsterdam at the weekend to plan a response. Delegates from 17 European countries debated emergency tactics, and Craig Spence, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for AOPA US, flew in from Washington. He left with a full understanding of the gravity and urgency of the matter.
AOPA UK’s Pam Campbell outlined the issue which, she said, had come as “something of a bombshell”. 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. The pilot would have to apply to the authority of the nation in which he or she resided. There would be a test for the validation, and no repeat validation would be possible, although an extension would be granted for a maximum of one year if the pilot could prove that training to convert the licence or rating has been commenced.
The minimum requirements to convert a third country PPL would be to pass an examination in Air Law and Human Performance, a PPL Skills Test and a Class 2 medical. It would also be necessary to demonstrate English language proficiency, and to have a minimum of 100 hours. That would convert the licence to a PPL with an SEP rating. Higher qualifications would be granted subject to additional training at the discretion of the service provider. The holder of an FAA Instrument Rating would have to study for and sit seven theoretical knowledge exams, which are currently the greatest barrier to the IR for private pilots. EASA is tinkering with theoretical knowledge requirements but there will be few game-changing amendments. It is unclear whether there would be any credit for American training or hours flown.
Emmanuel Davidson of AOPA France said there were more than 10,000 European pilots holding FAA licences flying in Europe. “We have to bear in mind that if your American licence is made illegal and you have an N-registered plane, when you fly it on a European licence you will have to apply both European and FAA regulations, which would mean you can only fly in the country that has issued your licence. It will be illegal to fly, say, from France to Germany or England to Belgium. Those aircraft which have been modified to FAA STCs may not be able to go on the European register and will have to be sold, but to whom? A glut of aircraft will come onto the market, and the only place you’d be able to sell them would be America. There will be massive compensation claims against EASA and the EC.”
IAOPA Senior Vice President Martin Robinson said this had been sprung on the industry at the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour, and that all assurances given by EASA and EC figures that the situation was not as dire as it seemed had proved valueless. “We are facing a firing squad which has its rifles cocked,” he said. “EASA has consulted on Part FCL, and in response to IAOPA’s specific comments on third country licences it responded with one word – ‘Noted.’ That is all. EASA sends its work as an opinion to the European Commission, which has a time frame in which to accept or reject, and the hearing for that is on the 13th and 14th October.”
IAOPA has already met with MEPs and European Commission figures and more meetings are scheduled with the aim of getting the Commission to allow more time to discuss the issue. “Our first objective is to get the EC wound up to ‘park’ the issue so the ramifications can be looked at,” Robinson said. “In the short time we have available, there is no other option. Then we have to work on how we modify the text to get a proper resolution.
“There is no guarantee that the EC will listen. They could say we’ve had our chance, but we can demonstrate that our comments simply haven’t been listened to. The regulatory impact of this will be enormous, and I believe they are poorly understood, even at EASA. I cannot believe they have done a proper Regulatory Impact Assessment on FCL. If they even begin to work out how many people would be driven out of aviation by this, EASA and the EC would recoil from it.”
There is little individual AOPA members can do at this late stage to influence events. Martin Robinson said: “If you feel strongly about this you can write to Mike Smethers, Chairman of the EASA Board of Management, at the CAA in Kingsway, with a copy to your local MEP. But time is so short that we can only take emergency measures at this stage.”
IAOPA will keep members informed of progress as it happens.