EASA, UK CAA Pilot Licensing Woes Deepen

EASA, UK CAA Pilot Licensing Woes Deepen

DALLAS – As of midnight Central European Time on December 31, 2020, the United Kingdom (UK) was no longer a member of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

Following the referendum in 2016, which paved the way for the UK to leave the European Union (EU), EASA was one of many organizations with which the UK severed ties.

One of the major roadblocks for pilots is the lack of an agreement that would allow mutual recognition of UK and EASA pilot licenses. While EASA is a regulatory body in its own right, each EASA member country is responsible for maintaining its own licensing system, which must comply with EASA legislation.

In other words, a pilot learning to fly in France will receive their license from the French aviation regulator, while a pilot learning to fly in Germany will receive their credentials from the German aviation regulator. However, both licenses are the same and can be used to fly any aircraft registered by an EASA country.

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Photo: Virgin Atlantic

Post-2020 Complications

Pilots with an EASA license issued by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (UK CAA) were no longer able to use their license to fly an aircraft registered in an EASA member state after the end of 2020. Extra complications arose from using UK-registered aircraft on flights within the EU, which is why easyJet chose to establish an Austrian subsidiary in 2017, which protected its ability to operate routes within the EU.

Pilots with EASA licenses issued in the United Kingdom had until the end of 2020 to transfer the state of license issue from the UK to another EU country. This was critical for aviators who were possibly employed by a carrier based in a country that was still a member of EASA. Pilots wishing to convert from an EASA license to a UK license have been given a bit more leeway, as the deadline is set at the end of this year.

There are even some pilots who originally held a UK license before transferring to another EU country and now wish to reactivate their UK license so that they can use both if necessary. Personally, I fit into this category. With the pandemic demolishing numerous careers in the aviation industry, one can never have too many licenses if faced with the daunting task of finding new employment.

Photo: Miten Patel for Airways

License Reactivation

In 2015, I became disillusioned with what I felt was poor customer service from the UK CAA. It was not uncommon to have to listen to an entire concerto of classical music while waiting for someone to answer your call, and if you were very lucky, your email was responded to within a few days. I, therefore, decided to transfer the state of issue for my EASA license from the UK to Ireland after receiving excellent feedback on the attentiveness of the Irish regulator, and I was not disappointed.

Given that my EASA license, which was issued in Ireland, will not allow me to fly UK-registered aircraft after the end of this year, I must now apply to re-acquire my UK license. Because I had a UK pilot’s license for many years, one might assume that this would be a quick and easy process.

The reality, however, falls far short of this reasonable expectation. It is a months-long process riddled with perplexing rules and procedures. I recently renewed my EASA pilot medical, and the doctor who performed it was also registered with the UK CAA.

In a humorous scene, both of us were carefully inspecting his computer monitor, trying to figure out what I needed to do to comply with UK CAA medical regulations. Instead of finding answers to our questions, we ended up asking more questions to each other. The doctor even resurrected my CAA medical records and demonstrated that my entire medical history was still stored on the UK CAA computer licensing system, as if someone had hit the pause button back in 2015.

Reactivating what is essentially a dormant flying license should not take months and raises concerns about whether the UK CAA has enough staff with the necessary skills to deliver what is a critical service to such an important industry.

Photo: British Airways

Rigid Policies

A friend of mine had to go through the reverse process because he needed an EASA license after the UK left the EU and his original license had been issued by the UK CAA. He, unfortunately, delayed the process until after the end of the 2020 deadline, which meant that his UK license was now considered a “third country” license.

This meant he had to go through a far more laborious conversion process, which included resitting some theory exams that he had sat decades ago during his commercial pilot training. To subject him to such a procedure when, for all intents and purposes, he is simply applying for the same license is absurd. It represents the bad blood that has sadly spilled as a result of the UK’s divorce from the EU, where irrational point-scoring has sadly trumped common sense.

Both the UK CAA and the EASA have something in common. They are both responsible for exceptionally safe aviation industries that adhere to the highest standards. For many years to come, there will be significant overlap in policy and practices, and one can only hope that some pragmatism will return to how the UK CAA and EASA recognize each other’s pilot licenses. While many rules imposed by regulators are intended to improve safety, these rigid policies serve no useful purpose.

Featured image: British Airways

Aviation author and commercial pilot based in the UK, with close to twenty years in the industry.

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