Why can’t the EU recognise UK pilots’ licences?

You have a pilot’s licence issued by the UK CAA. You complete the same training and checking as someone who has a licence issued by an EU state. Until 2021 you could fly an aircraft registered anywhere in Europe, but now you can only fly G- registered aircraft. This is crazy, and we should shout at our politicians until they fix it, right?

Mutual recognition of licences between the EU Member States was not a trivial thing; it didn’t happen overnight. Under the Chicago Convention, each country accepts responsibility for licensing pilots that fly aircraft registered in that country. A country can either issue its own licenses or validate licences issued by another country. In either case, the government that issues or validates the licences guarantees that pilots have met the internationally agreed standard for pilot qualification (ICAO Annex 1). If a government validates licences from another country without checking that the second country applies the standard correctly, they can’t give that assurance.

Within the European system, mutual recognition is achieved by:

  1. Having a single set of regulations that apply in all the Member States;
  2. Having a standardisation function, carried out by EASA, that checks that all Member States apply the rules consistently and
  3. Having a mechanism to deal with States that aren’t applying the regulations correctly. If such a situation arises, the European Commission can require a Member State to revoke a licence or approval it has issued.

When the United Kingdom decided to leave the EU, it ceased to be part of this system of mutual recognition. The UK adopted EU regulations in existence on 31st December 2020, but every regulation was amended to remove references to EASA and the European Commission. Since January 2021, the EU has made several amendments to pilot licensing rules that the UK has not adopted. Although the technical requirements to get a pilot’s licence are similar in the UK and the EU States, the regulations are not the same.

Think of it this way. You were in a golf club. You used to like being in the club, but then you started to find that the membership fees were too high, the management admitted some new members you didn’t like and some people in the club bar didn’t even speak English, so you cancelled your membership. You turned up next weekend to play a round of golf, and the management wouldn’t let you onto the course. “Why not?” you shout, “I was allowed to play here last week, and I’m just as good at golf as I was then!”.