The concern stems from the wording of EC Regulation 216/2008 (better known as the “Basic Regulation”). This is wide-ranging legislation that essentially governs the regulation of all civil aviation in the EU. Amongst other things, it establishes EASA. It is long and tedious. Focussing solely on pilot licensing aspects:
1. By Article 2 paragraph 1(c) the regulation applies to aircraft “registered in a third country and used … into, within or out of the Community by an operator established or residing in the Community”. In other words if I am an operator established within the EU then my aircraft has to comply with the regs, no matter what its flag of registration. “Operator” is defined as “any legal or natural person, operating or proposing to operate one or more aircraft” – circular perhaps, but wide.
2. By Article 2 paragraph 2, “personnel involved in the operations of aircraft referred to in paragraph 1 …(c) … shall comply with this Regulation”. In other words, if I fly an aircraft whose operator is established within the EU then I have to comply with the regs too.
3. Just in case that wasn’t enough, Article 2 paragraph 3 provides that “Operations of aircraft referred to in paragraph 1… (c) … shall comply with this Regulation”.
4. Taken together, the upshot of the above provisions is that one can’t opt out of EASA merely on the basis that one has N-reg planes and currently flies around under the privileges of FAA licences; to opt out one would need an aircraft whose operator resided outside the EU. It may be possible to set up some structure whereby the plane is operated by a non-EU resident…
5. Assuming that one’s aircraft is operated by an EU-based operator (and one is therefore subject to the Basic Regulation), one needs to be licensed to fly in accordance with Article 7. Paragraph 1 of Article 7 states that “Pilots involved in the operation of aircraft referred to in Article 4(1)(b) and (c) [1(c) includes EU-operated N-reg planes] … shall comply with the relevant ‘essential requirements’ laid down in Annex III”. Annex III is high-level stuff; what it means in practice an how it relates to the training and qualification route that FAA licence holders have gone down remains to be seen. Of more immediate practical concern is Article 7 paragraph 2: “except when under training, a person may only act as pilot if he or she holds a licence and a medical certificate appropriate to the operation to be performed”. It is tolerably clear from the context that “licence” and “medical certificate” mean EASA licence and EASA medical certificate and not (for example) an FAA one.
6. But not all the news is bad. Article 7 paragraph 2 also stipulates that the requirements for licence and medical certificate issuance “may be satisfied by the acceptance of licences and medical certificates issued by or on behalf of a third country as far as pilots involved in the operation of aircraft referred to in Article 4(1)(c) are concerned”. Note that it does NOT say: “… may be satisfied by licences and medical certificates issued by …”; the word “acceptance” is key. EASA could decide to accept FAA licences. But will it? EASA have made it clear that they will accept FAA licenses only via a mutual license acceptance treaty with the FAA. The FAA has a simple system for issuing 61.75 validations, but EASA pretends this does not exist; a treaty is their only acceptable means of doing this. And I don’t think the FAA will go along with a treaty; firstly Europe is hardly significant in the global aviation picture, and secondly there is the present U.S. domestic security climate.
7. Article 12 paragraph 1, provides that “By way of derogation from the provision of this Regulation and its implementing rules, the Agency or the aviation authorities in the Member State may issue certificates on the basis of certificates issued by aeronautical authorities of a third country, as provided for in recognition agreements between the Community and that third country”. This does not relate only to 4(1)(c) aircraft but more generally; i.e. this offers the possibility of mutual validation of licences. Whether it helps EU-based FAA licence holders depends on what (if any) recognition agreements are reached. But in principle, at least, it provides another route for existing privileges to remain.
We – EU residents – probably cannot avoid being covered by the Basic Regulation and therefore cannot avoid being EASA regulated. What that means in practice depends on what EASA choose to do. At one extreme we will have to rip up our licences and train all over again; at the other extreme, all FAA licences will be accepted.
Currently, in the EU, one can convert an ICAO IR to a JAA IR using the “15 hour conversion route” which means sitting all 7 (or 14 for a CPL/IR) exams and doing 15hrs of training (more if converting a CPL) and the JAA IR checkride. This leads to a pragmatic wait-and-see approach, with a key issue being the timing of any implementation: will we be able to judge what EASA is going to do before there is any chance of them killing off the current conversion route. If they killed off the conversion route (and that is indeed their current proposal) then an IR conversion would mean 50/55 (SE/ME) hours of training. The implementation date is somewhere in 2012 but may well slip.