The 16-month project to convert a U.S. pilot certificate to a European license

AOPA Magazine’s March 2019 issue has an article on the bureaucratic saga of converting a U.S. pilot certificate to a European license:

That completed, I embarked on a 5-month process of extensive interaction with the CAA, sending mountains of paperwork and forms back and forth, ultimately finding that the U.K. CAA is at the moment in a state of disarray. Many items had to be chased through a bureaucratic nightmare, finally resulting in the issuance of my European private pilot license an astonishing five months after the checkride.

In all, the process took 16 months, and cost $4,061; it involved three airline flights, and activities in three countries. Only a few hours of cost involved time piloting an airplane, with the rest related to machinations of paperwork, travel, and onerous fees. The most challenging part was that no single party had an answer on how to proceed, leaving more detective work than I ever imagined to ensure legal compliance.

This tends to support my friend’s theory that regulatory compliance is our modern religion. He notes that folks in the Middle Ages spent a lot of time praying in church and observing rituals. Most Americans and Europeans don’t do that anymore, but they put the same amount of time and effort into filling out forms, reading up on tax law, etc.

Let this be a warning to pilots who said that they would emigrate if Trump were elected… and are still working on the practical details.

4 thoughts on “The 16-month project to convert a U.S. pilot certificate to a European license

  1. “For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
    The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
    The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
    The insolence of office and the spurns
    That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
    When he himself might his quietus make
    With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
    To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
    But that the dread of something after death,
    The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
    No traveller returns, puzzles the will
    And makes us rather bear those ills we have
    Than fly to others that we know not of?”
    – Hamlet, Act III, Scene I

  2. I think most pilots like Trump. This is because pilots generally take responsibility for themselves.

  3. I don’t think anyone who’s a pilot could hate Trump enough to emigrate!
    (Or, not to Europe at least.)

    I’ve flown maybe half of my hours in the US, the other half in Europe. Been dealing with 3 of the European national authorities. With paperwork in 4 countries total, I had some ludicrous situations with each of those. (Though I was maybe a bit luckier than Garrett from the AOPA article when first converting my certificate…)
    The problem these days, I think, is that there is 32 national authorities who’re each and all in charge of all the practicalities, but each need to be complying with whatever folks at EASA keep coming up with. Pilots are sometimes struggling with staying out of “semi-legal fog” (as the article puts it), but so are the bureaucrats in the national aviation authorities!

    I know it sounds odd, but in comparison, the FAA seems to be an immensely pragmatic and efficient setup for regulating aviation. (Across a roughly similar area and population amount, so I think it’s a fair comparison, in principle.)

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