Spurred by criticism of overregulation and a decline in general aviation activity, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is making a significant effort to simplify and improve the regulatory framework of European general aviation (GA) and its approach to GA safety overall. The intent is to work toward a regulatory framework that best reflects the realities of GA, such as the diverse types of operations, the involvement of individuals as well as organizations as operators, and the regional — rather than international — character of this segment of the aviation industry.1
In 2012, EASA established a general aviation working group to analyze the adequacy of its GA regulatory framework, to highlight deficiencies and to make proposals for improvement. The result of the working group’s efforts was a paper, “European General Aviation Safety Strategy,” which was submitted to the EASA Management Board in late August 2012 and adopted by the board the following month.
The introduction to the strategy paper states: “It is essential to propose a new approach in the way GA is considered, which can prevent placing undue burden on these activities, which might threaten the very existence of the sector, whilst preserving an appropriate level of safety.” Later, the authors said the strategy “signals a genuine attempt to bring about a change of approach in how to achieve an acceptable level of safety by, and a sustainable future for, GA.”2
The strategy is based on a set of a six basic principles. According to EASA, GA should be handled differently from commercial air transport; a philosophy of “minimum necessary rules” should be adopted to focus on the main risk areas; a risk-based approach to targeted safety initiatives and rule making on risk assessment should be adopted; licenses and authorizations obtained under previous rules should be “grandfathered” or protected unless there is a demonstrable reason for not doing so; bureaucracy should be minimized and the European Union “smart regulation principles” related to proportionality and the assessment of tools other than new rules should be utilized; and the best available expert resources should be used and tasks delegated to the “level where they can be exercised most efficiently, including to GA organizations.”3
The plan to implement the strategy is called the GA Roadmap. It was drafted by EASA and the European Commission, and is intended to “provide a clear vision for innovation … to enable an increase in Europe’s GA activities and assure a sustainable development for GA in Europe.”4 On its website, in a section labeled “General Aviation Road Map,” EASA said that it recognizes that existing regulations may not necessarily be proportional to the risk exposure of GA and that some of the regulation was intended to cover more demanding activities, like commercial air transport operations. “Also, a regulation is not necessarily the best tool to improve safety. … [One example of a non-regulatory safety tool] is the European General Aviation Safety Team,” the website says.
The EASA Annual Safety Conference in Rome in mid-October 2014 was dedicated to GA, and EASA officials provided updates on its progress in implementing the roadmap and other GA initiatives.
During the conference, EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky said the agency is committed to a set of six safety policy objectives for general aviation. EASA also has revised its organizational structure to better lead the industry toward improved overall safety performance by means of, for example, a general aviation department within the agency to function as its eyes and ears for issues related to general aviation.
EASA’s six objectives include an easier path to qualification for an instrument rating for GA pilots; options for pilot training outside approved training organizations (ATOs); a simpler oversight framework for general aviation aircraft maintenance that is more proportionate to the size and complexity of GA operations as opposed to commercial air transport; continued development of tools enabling the introduction of new technologies contributing to safety; a simpler framework for certifying light sport aircraft (LSA); and delegation of the preparation of industry standards to industry groups.
Encouraging the addition of an instrument rating by GA pilots as a measure to improve safety is one of the initiatives in which EASA has made the most progress.
As reported at the EASA conference by Julian Scarfe, vice president of Europe Air Sports, GA aircraft increasingly are capable of flight under instrument flight rules (IFR), with IFR equipment more affordable and appealing, with advanced glass cockpits and automation available and with the increasing deployment of global navigation satellite system (GNSS)–based approaches to small airports. Nevertheless, an instrument rating has for a long time been difficult to get for European GA pilots because training for the rating traditionally has been tailored to those seeking air transport pilot licenses, with 50 hours required to be flown at an ATO.5
“Competence-based modular instrument rating is a reality, and a new concept — en route instrument rating — has been introduced. The related implementing rules have already been published. Their implementation largely depends on the EASA member states,” said Ilias Maragakis, external communication officer at EASA. The overall objective is to make obtaining an instrument rating easier and cheaper. In addition, the competence-based rating allows prior instrument experience to be credited so as to permit easier qualification for instrument ratings by general aviation pilots.6
At a recent meeting, EASA member states voted for a three-year extension of the applicability date for the new European aircrew regulation. “The postponement of the deadline for the implementation of crew licensing requirements for non-professional licenses to 2018 is aimed at giving enough time to the general aviation community to make adjustments,” says Maragakis.
The aircrew regulation will include proposals from the GA community for changes meant to ensure a more proportionate approach to aircrew. The changes include the development of a complementary solution for pilot training outside ATOs — for example, flying clubs; the reduction of the audit frequency to one audit every four years for ATOs involved in nonprofessional licenses down from one audit a year; the acceptance of third-country nonprofessional licenses for competition and display; and the examination of student pilots by the examiner even if he or she has acted as their instructor.
The mandatory briefing and pre-notification system for examiners was deleted from the rules, and a new system has been created in which examiners wishing to conduct checks on pilots holding a license issued by a competent authority within the European Union other than their own have to study a specific examiner-difference document.7
EASA Part-M on continuing airworthiness management, which requires a specific approval for both air operators and independent entities not operating aircraft to manage aircraft continuing airworthiness, will have a companion regulation for light aircraft — called “Part-M light.” This particular piece of regulation has been heavily criticized within the European GA community for the burden it places on pilot-owners, but EASA said it will work toward a simpler and more proportionate framework for light aircraft maintenance and related licenses.
“Part-M light will use simple wording, will include only material applicable to general aviation, remove all organization requirements — these will be kept in Part-M — and introduce all possible alleviations which will be developed by the time it will be completed in 2017,” says Maragakis. In essence, Part-M light is about making pilot-owners aware and responsible for the continuing airworthiness of their light aircraft.
“EASA is going to give the ability to do a ‘self-declaration’ of the maintenance program for pilot-owners of ELA1 aircraft8 and after this it will be possible to have [an] ELA2 aircraft9 maintenance program developed and approved by maintenance organizations, without the need for approval by the authority,” says Maragakis.
Another effort by EASA is helping pilot-owners of ELA1 aircraft to prepare a maintenance program for their aircraft through standardized templates. Minimum inspection programs are introduced as an alternative to the type certificate (TC) holder program. Airworthiness review certificates may also be issued by approved maintenance organizations when they conduct an annual inspection.
Requirements for the licensing of personnel maintaining light aircraft are becoming less stringent through the new Part-66, the annex to the regulation on continuing airworthiness dealing with aircraft maintenance personnel licensing. The simplified requirements are meant to increase the availability of mechanics in general aviation through simplified assessments and simplified conversion of existing privileges.
EASA has published a proposal for a certification specification for standard changes and repairs (CS-STAN) applicable to GA aircraft. After the proposal is adopted, it will allow modifying aircraft without design organization approval when the CS-STAN specifications are fulfilled.
“The proposed changes are expected to reduce the regulatory burden for the embodiment of simple changes and repairs in certain aircraft when fulfilling the acceptable methods, techniques and practices included in CS-STAN. Additionally, the existence of a simplified procedure for the embodiment of standard changes and standard repairs could limit the illegal practices of some owners that have not followed the applicable rules when modifying the aircraft,” says Maragakis.
“The overall purpose is not just to provide alleviations to owners/operators of small aircraft but also to allow the installation on board of some of the technologies that support safer operations, such as the angle-of-attack indicator, thereby improving safety, of course, with proportionality as to the operational risks that it is aimed to address,” says Maragakis.
The new process will only be applicable to certain aircraft: airplanes with a maximum takeoff mass (MTOM) no greater than 5,700 kg (12,566 lb), rotorcraft with MTOM no greater than 3,175 kg (7,000 lb) and most sailplanes, powered sailplanes, balloons and airships. “The standard changes and standard repairs concept is part of EASA’s endeavor to reduce the regulatory burden for general aviation. It will eliminate the process of approving a modification to the aircraft type design for cases where EASA acknowledges there is little added value in a formal design approval process if the change or repair is performed using well-established best practice,” says Maragakis.
Considering that changes to the type design so far have required design approval (by a design organization or by EASA itself), EASA is taking a cautious step by introducing standard changes and is proposing only a limited number of standard changes and standard repairs with the related notice of proposed amendment, a document produced by EASA that paves the way for applicable regulations approved by the European Parliament after consultation with key stakeholders. “EASA considers appropriate a gradual implementation of the ‘standard changes and standard repairs’ concept that will allow the industry, the national aviation authorities and the agency to find adequate solutions for unforeseen scenarios and will allow [confirmation] that the levels of safety are maintained,” says Maragakis.
EASA says the development of regulatory tools similar to CS-STAN — including a flexible approach to setting requirements — will allow the introduction of new technologies contributing to safety while reducing maintenance and operating costs.
EASA is working toward a simpler framework for certifying LSA aircraft.10 In the short term, this will increase support to original equipment manufacturer applicants by means of workshops and document templates. “What is being stressed with the short-term certification solutions is the … support to help light aircraft manufacturers better familiarize [themselves] with certification requirements,” says Maragakis.
In the long term, EASA will amend document CS-23 (certification specifications of light aircraft) in order to simplify the certification of light aircraft. In September 2014, EASA and the European Commission presented the latest developments toward simplifying EASA CS-23 aircraft certification rules.
EASA was praised for its progress toward a more proportionate set of airworthiness rules by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA). This EASA effort is part of a larger global initiative to modernize the way smaller airplanes are certificated. The initiative is aimed at cutting costs and increasing the safety of GA airplanes and technology, GAMA says.
CS-23 has its parallel version in U.S. Federal Aviation Regulations Part 23 and a streamlining of the two is under way. “CS/Part-23 reorganization is targeted at better synchronizing the two sides of the Atlantic with regard to the certification of light aircraft,” echoes Maragakis.
Building on the streamlining of CS-23/Part 23, EASA will work on other CS or regulations focusing on its safety objectives, and will delegate the preparation of associated standards to industry groups, such as global standards organization ASTM International and the Aerospace and Defense Industries Association of Europe.
While EASA says it’s committed to listening to the needs of the GA community, there is a strong perception in that community that there is a heavy regulatory burden on pilot-owners, in particular with regard to continuing airworthiness management.
Apart from the fact that the data related to GA safety performance seem to confirm a need for improvement, Maragakis recognizes that new regulations may have compounded the recent significant shrinking of European GA. Maragakis, however, also affirms that it is not possible to trace this outcome to one single factor but instead to a complicated series of factors in addition to a renewed regulatory focus on safety, reduced economic activity in Europe and increased fuel and insurance costs.
Will the new regulatory focus improve GA safety, and will it lead to a business aviation revival? Only time will tell, but certainly the involvement of key stakeholders in a transparent rule/standard-making effort is a good starting point. What is happening in commercial aviation — by means of raising awareness of the safety responsibilities of single-service providers with safety management systems in a performance-based fashion — may be a learning experience to start a parallel effort in raising the safety sensitivity of pilot-owners. Any rule-making effort should be accompanied by the creation of a culture for new GA pilots of safety awareness that goes beyond the traditional focus of training on airmanship.
Mario Pierobon is a safety management consultant and content producer. He currently is working on a research project investigating aircraft ground handling safety.
- EASA. GA Roadmap: Towards Simpler, Lighter, Better Rules for General Aviation. 2014
- EASA GA Working Group. European General Aviation Safety Strategy. Aug. 30, 2012.
- Scarfe, Julian. “Current achievements and future gains – training and licensing,” Panel 6 presentation at EASA Safety Conference. 2014.
- “ELA1 aircraft” means the following manned European light aircraft:
- an aeroplane with a maximum takeoff mass (MTOM) of 1,200 kg [2,646 lb] or less that is not classified as complex motor-powered aircraft;
- a sailplane or powered sailplane of 1,200 kg MTOM or less;
- a balloon with a maximum design lifting gas or hot air volume of not more than 3,400 m³ [120,070 cu ft] for hot air balloons, 1,050 m³ [37,080 cu ft] for gas balloons, 300 m³ [10,594 cu ft] for tethered gas balloons;
- an airship designed for not more than four occupants and a maximum design lifting gas or hot air volume of not more than 3,400 m³ for hot air airships and 1,000 m³ [35,315 cu ft] for gas airships;
- ELA2 aircraft means the following manned European light aircraft:
- an aeroplane with a maximum takeoff Mass (MTOM) of 2,000 kg [4,409 lb] or less that is not classified as complex motor-powered aircraft;
- a sailplane or powered sailplane of 2,000 kg MTOW or less;
- (a balloon;
- a hot airship;
- a gas airship meeting all of the following elements:
- 3 percent maximum static heaviness,
- Non-vectored thrust (except reverse thrust),
- Conventional and simple design of:
- Control system,
- Ballonet system,
- Non-power assisted controls;
- A Very Light Rotorcraft.
- LSA aircraft means a light sport aeroplane which has all of the following characteristics:
- a maximum takeoff mass (MTOM) of not more than 600 kg [1,323 lb];
- a maximum stalling speed in the landing configuration (VS0) of not more than 45 kt calibrated airspeed (CAS) at the aircraft’s maximum certificated takeoff mass and most critical centre of gravity;
- a maximum seating capacity of no more than two persons, including the pilot;
- a single, non-turbine engine fitted with a propeller;
- a non-pressurised cabin.