We have it pretty good but…

April 28, 2011 by Bruce Landsberg

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.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Simon Walther

    Bruce, things are bad for general aviation in Europe compared to the US, no question. But it is “only” 150 hours of study and not 600 that are required to obtain an instrument rating (used to be 200 or 250 until some time ago). It can be done with a certified homestudy course and you then “only” need 30 hours of actual ground school. That doesn’t change the fact, of course, that the requirements are ridiculous. The certified course costs 1000 Euros. The whole instrument rating will set you back something like 10-14,000 Euros. Multiply that by 1.46 and you have the current equivalent in USD (which will look horrendous with the current weak USD). You are right, light sport aviation is thriving in Europe. But the problem things boil down to is that private pilots are kept from getting more professional over here. The instrument rating is the perfect example. I guess it is considered by EU bureaucrats as something that only professional pilots need, which is why the requirements are so ridiculous. The result: The share of private pilots having an instrument rating here is somewhere near or below 5% whereas in the US – to my knowledge – the figure is closer to 40%. So the danger here is that general aviation gets marginalized with less and less people getting even a private pilot licence (but only a light sports ticket), let alone an instrument rating or a commercial ticket. In the population here general aviation seems to be considered an expensive hobby for, well, engineering nerds and the like. Or luxury for people with “too much money” (i.e., business jet passengers).

    I can just say: Keep up the great work you guys are doing in the US and prevent things from getting the way they are here.

    Simon Walther, US-AOPA member, FAA certificated instrument rated private pilot and JAA certificated private pilot in Germany

  • Bruce Landsberg


    Thanks for the clarification. Guess my sources were exaggerating and even at that, the requirements are absurd. I always come back from Europe amazed at your resiliency and commitment and vow that we will not tolerate that foolishness here.

    I can only hope that our members feel the same. thanks so much for your comment!

  • Arturo

    I´ve never flown in Europe, but Mexico has a terrible GA.
    There is absolutely no standard here in anything. Tests are absurd in most cases, with test questions for Aeronautical Engineers, Mechanics or ATC, not for pilots. Asking how many axes in a plane caryying 200 people is actually not so terrible compared.
    Mexican authority requires 1500 of theory for CPL (which no school really follows).
    Bureaucracy here is the norm. The more stops, the better. For a local touch and goes flight you need to file flight plan, get it stamped from airport authority and then back to airport dispatch office.
    To get permission for flight training you can wait up to a month for the permit to come out.
    Waiting for an appointment in aviation medicine can take 1 month. The exam itself is about 5 hours.
    You must keep a copy of every single flight plan(stamped and signed by the airport authority) in order to prove every flight hour on your log book and get it stamped by the aviation authority.
    All flight time for a certificate must be done at the flight school (no time building on your own). Most flight schools have about 30 or more students and 2 planes, and sometimes one doesn´t work.
    I came to the conclusion that GA in the USA is the best!!!
    I got my FAA license in a few months, validating it here has taken over a year and half and still in process.

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