Making Peace with European Air Law

Europe’s Air law is transforming at such a fast pace, it challenges even experienced pilots. As a result, there is insecurity among pilots about which rules apply. EASA tackles this issue with the new Easy Access Rules for Air Operations, a document similar to the FAR/AIM in America.

The new Air Operations Regulation is applicable law for all non-commercial non-complex aircraft operators (any operator, including owners and renters, schools and so forth – except under AOC). The important part for us pilots flying anything between a Super Cub and a Twin Otter non-commercially is Part-NCO (EU No 800/2013).

Part-NCO comes into force on August 25th 2016 in all EASA member states!

 You will find Part-NCO in this document (all paragraphs starting with NCO.XY.XYZ), which is almost up to date:

EASA AIR OPS ANNEX I to VIII
Easy Access Rules for Air Operations reminds of the American FAR/AIM
The Americans lead the way in aviation legislation. Their law is changing too, but only in small increments. Ask any FAA pilot about a certain regulation and you will hear a quote out of the Federal Aviation Regulations – either off the top of their head or, after a minute of scrolling, out of the one and only FAR/AIM. EASA is going in the right direction with its publication. It is not perfect, as it does not contain national regulations. Yet it is comprehensive, as far as relevant EU regulation goes. And we have to keep it real: It is already 1679 pages even without national regulations (the FAR/AIM is about 1100 pages). It contains the Implementing Rules (IR), the Acceptable Means of Compliance/Guidance Material (AMC/GM) in a merged, easy-to-read format and it will be updated within a certain time period after each substantial change to the IR and/or AMC&GM. A thousand pages sound intimidating; let’s break it down with an example:

Easy Access NCO IDE A 125 IFR Minimum Equipment.png
Hard Law colorless at the top, Soft Law in green and yellow
Let’s say we would like to know what equipment our airplane needs in order to fly IFR (Part-NCO will apply to Switzerland in Summer ’16). First, open this yuuuge document and press «ctrl+f» to find the applicable regulation. EASA really tries to keep it simple. At the top we see the «Hard Law» (colorless), which tells us what instruments must be installed to fly IFR. In green we have the Guidance Material, GM. It tells us the Agency suggests to have an alternate static port for IFR flights. However, if we just got an instrument rating to fly worry-less through the complex airspace of Europe in clear blue skies or through the occasional stratus cloud en-route, then EASA gives us the freedom to fly with the bare minimum. In yellow we are given an Acceptable Means of Compliance, AMC. It removes ambiguity from the rules; in this example the AMC explains that a wrist watch is an acceptable means of measuring and displaying time on an IFR flight. However, for Part-NCO operators an AMC is not binding and alternative means of compliance may be used without approval. Per EASA an AMC is demonstrating a means, but not the only means, to comply with a rule. Green and yellow is therefore «Soft Law». This document format is keeping things simple. We see all applicable EASA rules for IFR minimum equipment on one page. Next, in order to equip our plane for IFR, we need to look at the national regulations, since states might have stricter rules than the EU prescribes. In Switzerland we won’t find anything, since the new VRV-L got rid of the concerning rules when SERA came into force. Well then, go ahead and have fun in your cheap, basic IFR airplane.

EASA Hard Law Soft Law.png
Implementing Rules (IR) are Hard Law, AMC and GM are Soft Law
With this document EASA makes EU law reasonably easy to read. It is a step forward – a step towards simpler regulation – as promised. They are trying hard to achieve higher safety through better regulation performance. The content of the document, being under constant review by NPAs, is becoming less restrictive. Europe concedes that aviation regulation in America always had a better regulation performance. The performance-based approach of the Agency means more safety with less rules: Contradiction? Negative.

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