EASA Taking Aim on U.S. Flight Schools

By Scott Spangler on March 19th, 2009

JetWhine_Flight-Instructor Measuring the health of U.S. flight schools is easy. Grab the latest General Aviation Manufacturers Association Statistical Databook and see how many student pilot certificates the FAA issued last year. The most recent number is for for 2007: 66,793. If you think that’s dismal, look at 2005: 53,576, the all-time low since the first number on the list, 1978’s 137,032.

The list is full of wild fluctuations. In 1979 the FAA issued 135,957 student tickets. The following year it issued 102,501, a drop of roughly 25 percent. 1981 was the last time the total had six figures. You have to admire flight school owners for sticking with such an unpredictable business.

JetWhilne_EASA-logo If the European Aviation Safety Agency doesn’t make any changes or sign any new bilateral agreements, flight schools can expect the next big hit to enrollments in 2012, when EASA makes it more difficult to convert a pilot certificate earned in the U.S. to its European equivalent. That’s the effective date of EASA’s proposed “Requirements for the Acceptance of Licenses Issued by or on Behalf of Third Countries,” on page 159 of the larger body of proposed licensing and medical certification regs.  Those “requirements” are above and beyond those required for earning the same license in an EASA member nation.

Although the EASA proposal doesn’t come out and say it, the “third country” where Europeans most often learn to fly is, you guessed it, the United States of America, the land of inexpensive flying (for the time being, anyway). A good percentage of the student certificates the FAA issues go to Europeans, as do the follow-on private pilot certificates, and more than a few instrument ratings.

JetWhine_LandingFeesLogo At some flight schools, especially in our warmer climes, foreign students are the majority. Even with the cost of travel, lodging, and training, it’s still cheaper than learning to fly in Europe, home of direct user fees. For example: According to PlasticPilot.net,  landing fees at nontowered airports range from $10 to $50–each. Anybody up for some touch-n-goes? And in Bern, Switzerland, an ILS approach and landing will cost you $60. The blogger didn’t give the cost a go-around.

One goal of EASA’s proposal is to create EU-wide licenses. This supercedes how each nation deals with the conversion of a U.S. ticket. If the proposed rules take effect in 2012, to convert a “third country” PPL, pilots will have to take EASA’s Air Law and Human Performance exams, hold a Class 2 medical certificate, demonstrate language proficiency,  fulfill the relevant requirements for the issuance of a type or class rating relevant to the privileges to the license held, have at least 100 hours of PIC time in the relevant aircraft, and pass the PPL skill test. 

JetWhine_instrument rating To convert an instrument rating, pilots will also need pass the Aeronautical Weather Code and Flight Planning & Performance exams, and have at least 100 hours of PIC in IMC. But the real frosting on this regulatory cake is that the extra PIC time is not required when pilots learn to fly in EASA-land. The added time is special for those who earn their certificates in a “third country.”

What it all seems to mean is that European pilots who learn to fly in the United States will have to repeat a good chunk of their training at an European flight school. So much for saving money by learning to fly in America. And flight schools can say good-bye to a good source of students. 

Several European aviation bloggers have said that EASA has extended the comment period on this proposal at least once because it didn’t get enough comments, just 200 by the original October 2008 deadline, says FreeFlight, and I’ve read, but haven’t been able to confirm, that EASA extended it again to the end of February. (I wish EASA would take a lesson from the easy-to-find-stuff FAA website.)

As you might expect, Americans can’t weigh in on this. And honestly, should American aviators, beyond flight school owners, care? Without a doubt–yes! No matter where we live, we aviators are a minority, and what happens to one sooner or later happens to all. If you doubt this, look at Europe’s direct user charges and think about what we’ve been fighting off for years. — Scott Spangler

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9 Responses to “EASA Taking Aim on U.S. Flight Schools”

  1. Ron Says:

    Well said. I wonder why these restrictions would be put in place? It’s like a trade embargo on U.S. trained pilots.

    How many pilots pursued the JAR instrument rating last year? Probably just a handful.

  2. PlasticPilot Says:

    Ron, you’re correct. Getting a JAA IFR is quite a tough thing. The theory is almost the same as for a full-blown ATPL. Result ? Approximately 5% of JAA private pilots are instrument rated… No more comment.

  3. Matthew Stibbe Says:

    If I recall correctly, fewer than a dozen UK PPLs get an instrument rating each year in the UK. Why? Not because the flying or checkride is more difficult than the FAA version but because they insist on making you take nine elaborate exams first. The full set of ATPL exams is 14 so you’re doing about 2/3rds of a year-long ATPL ground school course simply to take the exams. It’s the same requirement (at least in the UK) if you want to convert an FAA IR to a JAR IR. It’s insane. If you go the other way, I think, the FAA will give you an IR automatically if you present an ICAO-compliant certificate.

  4. Scott Says:

    In all of my research I could find no official reason why EASA is proposing these additional requirements. But I remember that JAA proposed similar requirements when it came to be back in the 1990s.

    Many called it “protectionism,” to keep European flight school business from fleeing to America. I’m not so sure about that, then or now.

    Given the mindset of bureaucrats worldwide, I’d put my money on the paperpushers doing what they can to make their lives easier. Fewer people will line up for the transfer process if you make the requirements for getting in line off-putting.

  5. Ari Says:

    It might have to do with US not allowing majority EU ownership of US-based airlines. I’ve heard this being used as a threat in negotiations but I didn’t realize that they are about to put this into law. I guess they want to be ready in case negotiations fail, as they most likely will.

  6. The Importance of a Pilot’s License. « Aviation Buzz Says:

    […] at least one pilot, right? I don’t know if you’re familiar with JetWhine, but they had a post related to the number of student pilot certificates given out each year by the FAA. (Referring to […]

  7. F. Troj Says:

    It’s quite simple…..GREED!

    European pilots drag their money to the US, because zero to CPL IR ME is less than 50 percent of the cost than here (and I know that because I did exactly that!).

    You would have to be stupid (or rich!) to train in Europe self-funded….. in the US you get a lot more for the same amount of money.

    EASA is trying to end this, make people spend their money (more money) at home.

    Ridiculous. Simple as that. I hope I’m long done with converting by then.

  8. Ed Says:

    Hey everyone,

    I’m a flight attendant working for a european airline, and I would like to stick with the industry, however I would like to do it as a pilot :P I’m hearing that getting your PPL in the USA is a lot cheaper than over here, so I was wondering if it’s hard to find a flight school in the states that is certified to give out JAR PPLs, and the costs for that.

    Any info will be greatly appreciated.

  9. FAA test Says:

    A very interesting post !

    FAA and JAA have some economic differences yes, but I’m convinced that the main reason for JAA rules in this respect are trade political: to protect the endangered species of European flight schools, who’d otherwise (read: due to economic reasons, bigger US markets etc.) lose a lot of the business to the US schools.

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