European FTOs: threatened
If you think you’ve heard it all having read “European pilot training industry heads for paralysis”, actually you don’t know the half of it yet. Nobody does.
Europe is putting a significant proportion of its home-produced pilot training industry at risk by changing the rules about flight crew licensing (FCL), and also what is required of flight training organisations (FCL) and type rating training organisations (TRTO) to enable them to be approved as training providers. In addition, as currently framed, the notice of proposed amendment would put the US-based (and other foreign-based) FTOs used by European training organisations out of business, and it looks as if it may threaten about 40% of the business of big North American-owned TRTOs in Europe, like Alteon, FlightSafety International, and CAE.
I feel slightly sorry for the European Aviation Safety Agency, because all it wants to do is to convert the existing Joint Aviation Authority rules about European pilot licensing and approved pilot training organisations (JAR FCL) into EU law. The trouble is that the new regulations themselves have to follow a set of generic EU legal principles that are nothing to do with aviation. In other words, politics has intruded.
What politics? Well, ever since pilot licences in Europe ceased – almost a decade ago – to be different in each EU member state and the move was made to a single JAR FCL pilot licence, the European Commission has been looking enviously across the Pond at the US FAA system. US pilots have to be trained in America to FAA standards by FAA licensed instructors. To make that quite clear, FAA licences may not be gained by training at establishments outside America. It has the most inflexible training system in the world, and it is certainly not likely to go global or multinational any time soon.
Meanwhile at present, part of the flying that student pilots at almost all the larger European FTOs do is carried out in the USA, because it’s cheaper, and since the weather is more reliable it takes less time. This will stop under the proposed new rules because the US-based instructors – at present allowed to be FAA-licenced even if they train to a European syllabus - would be required to win EASA licences and ratings. From the point of view of individual instructors that is just not worth it, because they could not be guaranteed a permit to work in Europe, and they probably don’t want to anyway.
Europe has let it be known that if a European/US bilateral training agreement were to be signed, its proposed protectionist rules could be modified.
So let’s look at how likely that bilateral is, and how long it would take to get it. The USA is running up to a presidential election, and the FAA Administrator is a presidential appointee. So the FAA would not be in a position even to advance this proposal to a new administration for at least a year, and it has so many other priorities this is certainly going to be well down the list. If the proposal were ever to get that far, Congress would almost certainly see the bilateral proposal as having no merit.
The risk, for Europe, is that it will seriously harm its own pilot training industry and also damage multinational FTOs and TRTOs that serve the needs of European airlines and business aviation. And would America get the message in the process? Probably not, but if it were to, the damage would already have been done.