Safety or Politics?

October 6, 2010 by Bruce Landsberg

Most U.S. pilots have never heard of EASA – the European Aviation Safety Agency. Their motto is “Your Safety is our Mission” but in my view, as least as far as light GA is concerned, they sometimes create solutions in search of a problem. And sometimes it is done out of frustration with our political system.

I’ve had the privilege of working with the International AOPA (IAOPA) for a number of years and have participated over a decade in IAOPA conventions. I always come away with a new-found appreciation for the freedom to fly that we have in the U.S.  Despite some recent encroachments, GA here is generally much better off here than in the rest of the world.  Believe it or not -  it is much more affordable and less complex.

EASA has just proposed to require holders of U.S. pilot certificates to also get a European Instrument rating to operate IFR for Part 91 flights on the Continent. The logical question is, “Have there been accidents or incidents by U.S. pilots where the probable cause was due to a misunderstanding of IFR European flight procedures?”

To my knowledge there is NO data to support this concern – zero, zip, nada. You should know that the Air Safety Institute has offered to maintain an international database and report annually just as we do in the U.S. with The Nall Report. So far, there has been no answer.

So why this sudden concern about U.S. IFR pilots?   Glad you asked! It seems that in 2008 there was a bi-lateral agreement proposed between the U.S. and EASA that called for the joint recognition of flight crew certification, air carrier operating certificates and maintenance facilities.  Seemed reasonable especially in light of no conflicting operational data.

However, concern was voiced from some U.S. labor sources that off shore repair shops might  be substandard and hence would require FAA oversight.  Was there any systemic data to support that contention? Again, not to my knowledge. Understandably, that was a deal-breaker for the Europeans. The response was, “OK, if you can’t trust our shops – guess we can’t trust your pilots!”

The potential ramifications are enormous. Thousands of U.S. registered aircraft would be grounded in Europe. To obtain an EASA IFR rating it would require seven (7) knowledge tests and a flight check.  Some pilots would attempt VFR when they needed to be in the IFR system.

One of the biggest impediments to safety and common sense is politics. Economics and fairness is also important and those need to be judged on their merits but wrapping them in the golden mantle of safety is disingenuous.  Settle those differences honorably on the economic and political playing field.

IAOPA and AOPA have been engaged since 2008 although this is just now coming to a head and there has been a direct and forceful response.  If there was ever a time for pilots to band together with their Association this is it. In the immortal words of Thomas Paine,  “If we do not hang together we shall surely hang separately.”

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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12 Responses to “Safety or Politics?”

  1. Walt Woltosz Says:

    Isn’t this all too typical of our government organizations that should be promoting aviation rather than stifling it?

  2. Jeff Sponberg Says:

    It appears that international politics has put us into an inverted spin from which recovery may not be possible. Pehaps a contructive dialoge between the two parties might resolve some of the differences and put this issue to rest. New regulations with no basis in fact are unwaranted and foolish. Why not require life vests for cyclists? It makes just about as much sense.

  3. Robert Tompkins Says:

    Having both a JAR PPL (German) and FAA PPL, IFR, SES, CPL, CGI, I feel I know both systems well. I am sitting in Frankfurt flight planning to do my six approaches, VOR tracking and Holds to keep my IFR currency. Frankly, Europe despises GA. Unlike AOPA, US, the pilot associations in Europe are impotent in the objective of justifying GA. Pilots are seen as rich boys and girls out to indulge in private hedonistic pleasures. For most Europeans, we are a noisy annoyance which disturbs dining on the terrace. I got my JAR PPL and was only 4 to do so in 2009. AOPA only has 4000 members in Germany with the average age of over 65 years. There are only 20 student pilots in AOPA Germany. We are in serious trouble. I have an “N” registered experimental aircraft which is fully IFR equipped with four places. The same aircraft with a “DE” registration can only hold 2 people, cannot fly IFR, cannot fly over cities and cannot fly at night. My avionics are better than most airliners and allow the highest degree of precision in instrument flying. However, I am American with an American aircraft and there is nothing hated more in Europe than that. Please provide guidance as to what we can do to bring sense to EASA.

  4. Mike Guckian Says:

    I hold a JAR PPL and an FAA PPL IR. I have been happly flying around Ireland for the last number of years and never had a problem with approaches into international airports. I have had situations where I have had to switch from VFR to IFR because of deteriorating weather ( we can have 4 seasons in Ireland in a few hours!!) . If I tried to continue under VFR I don’t believe the flight would have been as safe. Thanks to being a member of AOPA US that I knew about this, and have already contacted my MEPs to let them know of the issues and make them aware of the vote.

  5. Jim Curlott Says:

    As Bruce has pointed out, this issue smacks more of geopolitical tit-for-tatting than valid concern for aviation safety. Politics, especially international, can be a rough and brutal business. The US would be well served by downplaying, if not abandoning altogether, what may well be a misplaced and unverified concern over sub-standard overseas repair facilities. Particularly if this concern is being promoted sans any valid data. Perhaps taking the concern over overseas repair facilities off the table would allow EASA to reconsider its position on the mandatory European IFR rating.

  6. William R. Rousseau Says:

    This is yet another international mindset attempting to expand their domain of authority. There is likely no widely known compelling evidence for implementing such crap!

  7. Jeff Boatright Says:

    “concern was voiced from some U.S. labor sources that off shore repair shops might be substandard and hence would require FAA oversight.”

    Bruce, who were the “U.S. labor sources” that voiced concerns? Seems like a start towards minimizing the politics in a situation would be clarity on who the players are and what their various motivations and concerns are. Did these “labor sources” specify which “off shore repair shops” are of concern? Surely not all European countries hold the same standards. Are UK, German, and French standards the same as those of Azerbaijan, Montenegro, or Albania? Not to pick on anyone, but Europe is not monolithic; different countries clearly have different technical standards.

  8. Bruce Landsberg Says:

    Jeff….

    No promises but without getting entangled in the political effluent surrounding this or spending disproportionate time, let me see what info us available.

  9. Jim Says:

    Thank you Bruce for researching this and writing about it. Over regulation really hurts aviation and need to be uncovered. It costs enough to fly without added regulations adding unnecessary expenses. There are many of these battles to fight. Thank you for leading the charge!!!

  10. Stan van de Wiel Says:

    In the 80′s and early 90′s I was involved with an organisation responsible for sending on average 150 European students to the USA per year to gain their professional qualifications. On return after 2 years with 1500 hrs experience including CFI & IFR qualifications, only a few could pass their European PPL without extensive re training, discipline. This reflected poorly on a system of Juniors training Juniors and the underlying standards. Changes were then invoked restricting the acceptance of such experience meaning a more than doubling of the costs to European students. European colleges were then established in the USA with Euro qualified instructors to circumnavigate this restriction. Whether the requirements were set too high is a mute point. I tested to the required standard. As noted there are no “safety” statistics to prove a point. my observation is that accident rates are similar and relate more to attitude than experience.
    I wholeheartedly agree with Bruce’s comment – “One of the biggest impediments to safety and common sense is politics”
    In 1997 I returned to Australia to find the same deterrent to “safety” the CASA. We have no “N” aircraft flying in Australia!!! would require a per flight permit???

  11. Jan Melkebeek Says:

    I do not agree on all comments of Stan. I got my Belgian PPL in 1978. After 17 years of flying I earned my FAA CPL with IR in 1995. But I had to re-train quite a lot, not only because of the higher level of a CPL. But because I missed some basics skills like serious crosswind landings. Thanks to my FAA instructor I am not afraid now to land my C172RG in crosswinds of 25 kt, or performing a short field landing on a dirt strip.
    In my view, the JAA (or EASA) puts too much accent on the theoretical basis but forgets the practical stuff. And I know JAA (EASA) instructors who told me that the skill level of new EASA commercial (ATPL) pilots is indeed below everything.
    The same is true for aircraft maintenance. In Europe they mainly check the paperwork, but do not spend much time on checking the airplane itself.

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