We’ve all (well, most of us) have heard the horror stories of the high prices and constraining bureaucracy in many places outside the U.S.. I’ve had the privilege to work with the International AOPA over the years and more recently to attend AERO Friedrichafen. It’s the biggest GA show in Europe, held every spring, attracting both pilots and manufacturers from both the States and the Continent. We can learn a lot from how the other 20% live.
Briefly reciting some of the negatives, avgas, when you can get it, goes for $10 -15 a gallon. Many cities do everything in their power to discourage GA (even Friedrichafen reportedly charges about $116 to land) with usurious landing and “handling fees.” Flying IFR in Europe makes the U.S. Northeast corridor looks like a walk in the park, even though U.S. traffic density is generally much higher. In Europe you’re charged handsomely for the aggravation. There are 22 enroute centers in the entire U.S. (including AK and HI) which covers much more airspace and traffic but Eurocontrol presides over about three times that many enroute centers. Apparently, harmonization is elusive and overhead is pervasive.
On the safety side, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is charged with standardizing flight training and procedures. A private pilot instrument rating requires over 600 hours of logged academic study with a knowledge test that has seven major sections. Many questions are irrelevant for GA – such as how many crash axes are required on board a 200 seat passenger airliner. This type of testing is worse than irrelevant – it distracts pilots learning the things they need to know. Safety statistics for light aircraft and the justification for what we would consider absurdly complex rules are lacking.
On the positive side, the dream of flight is as alive as ever and there is a burgeoning light sport market. I looked over a number of the machines and they are improving every year. Engines are a point of focus because of the fuel price/availability issue mentioned earlier. Diesels have both advocates and detractors.
One thing is crystal clear – effective advocacy is essential. On an admittedly self-congratulatory note, AOPA US and the Air Safety Institute are held in high regard for both advocacy and education. Desk-pounding must be balanced with trusted relationships and solid alternatives. It’s not a place for amateurs. If pilots ever needed incentive to get involved with their U.S. organizations, a European visit will be motivating indeed.