Regulations require aircraft operators to be specifically approved to conduct certain types of operations. In Europe, the applicable regulation is Annex V to Regulation (EU) 965/2012 (as amended), known as ‘Part-SPA’.

For each type of operation listed on this page, an aircraft operator needs to demonstrate to the ‘Competent Authority’ (i.e. the national aviation authority, NAA) that it complies with the applicable requirements before being approved.

The ‘competent authority’ that needs to issue the approval is the authority of the operator’s state. In most cases, this is the same as the state where the aircraft is registered, but for European non-commercial operators that use aircraft registered in non-European states, the European authority may accept an approval issued by the state of registry.

Performance Based Navigation (PBN)

Operation on certain routes or classifications of airspace requires an operator to use ‘performance-based navigation’ (PBN) techniques. The use of PBN means that an aircraft can navigate along a defined track with the necessary accuracy without tracking from one radio beacon to the next. The techniques are ‘performance-based’ because the regulations don’t specify that particular equipment must be installed on the aircraft and used by the pilot; instead, they specify the required performance of the navigation system.

There are many different classifications of PBN according to the particular operating environment; these are classified as area navigation specifications (RNAV) or required navigation performance specifications (RNP). The difference is that to satisfy RNP requirements, there must be on-board performance monitoring so that the pilot is notified if the navigation system shouldn’t be relied on.

All European upper airspace requires aircraft to operate according to basic area navigation requirements, known as RNAV5 or B-RNAV, but no specific approval is required for this.

Since 2018, PBN operations have been included in mandatory pilot training, so most types of PBN do not require an operator to hold a specific approval. The exception is RNP AR APCH (RNP approval-required approach operations).

Reduced Vertical Separation Minima (RVSM)

To operate above flight level 290 (roughly 29,000 feet), operators must hold an RVSM approval. This ensures that the aircraft altimetry and operating procedures support vertical separation from other aircraft of just 1000ft.

To obtain approval, the aircraft must be appropriately certified, and the maintenance programme needs to ensure that the altitude measuring system remains accurate and reliable. Pilots need to receive specific training, and operating procedures will ensure that they monitor the altimetry systems for any deviations from the correct flight levels. An operator will also need to put a monitoring programme in place, including periodic checks of the accuracy of height keeping in-flight. ‘Regional Monitoring Agencies’ (RMAs) maintain a database of aircraft granted RVSM approval by their competent authorities so that air traffic control can verify that aircraft are properly approved.

Low Visibility Operations (LVO)

Low visibility take off (LVTO)

Aircraft operators require specific approval to take-off in visibilities of less than 400m runway visual range. Under European rules, this applies to all aircraft operators regardless of the aircraft type or whether the operation is commercial or non-commercial.

Low visibility approach operations (CAT II/III)

Operators need specific approval to use Category II (CAT II) or Category III (CAT III) approach operations. CAT II involves using flight director, autoland or a head-up display to fly down to decision heights as low as 100 ft. CAT III can use decision heights down to 0 ft. or no decision height. The actual limits applicable for CAT III depend on the equipment installed on the aircraft and the approval issued to the operator.

To achieve approval for CAT II or III operations, an operator needs to have been operating the aircraft type for some time and conduct a number of approach operations using CAT II/III procedures and equipment. The operator also needs to have a system for monitoring the success rate of these approaches.

Enhanced Flight Vision Systems (EFVS)

Some modern aircraft are fitted with ‘enhanced flight vision systems’ (EVS). The EVS system uses external sensors such as infra-red cameras to produce an image of the aircraft surroundings that would not be visible to the naked eye. The EVS can detect runway lights, terrain, obstacles and weather in darkness or when natural visibility is obscured by weather such as fog or snow. EVS can be displayed on cockpit displays and is an excellent aid to situational awareness.

An EVS that can be used to fly instrument approaches is an “Enhanced Flight Vision System” (EFVS). On these systems, the EVS image must be displayed to the handling pilot on a head-up display (HUD). There will also be another display visible to the monitoring pilot, but this does not need to be on a HUD. On older aircraft, the system may still be described as an EVS, but the capability of the system is described in the aircraft flight manual (AFM)

EFVS 200

Operators can use a certified EFVS to fly instrument approaches in lower visibility than would be permitted without the EFVS. Specific approval is not required for operations down to 200 ft above the runway (EFVS 200) in RVRs or more than 550m, provided that the operator has operating procedures in the operations manual and the pilots have been trained.


If an operator holds specific approval, EFVS can be used to fly instrument approaches with fewer restrictions than EFVS 200. Depending on the system’s capability, the EFVS may be used to touchdown. The process for obtaining specific approval for EFVS approach operations is similar to other low-visibility approach operations.

Extended Range Operations with Two-Engined Aeroplanes (ETOPS)

Twin engined airliners are not permitted more than one hour’s flight time from a diversion airport unless the operator holds an ETOPS approval.

Operators holding ETOPS approval have a specific maximum diversion time for each aircraft type. They need to plan flights to remain within the associated distance from a suitable diversion airport.

There are different rules for business jets with less than 20 passenger seats and a maximum take-off mass of less than 45,360kg. These aircraft can operate up to two hours flight time from a diversion airport and can get approval to extend this to three hours by following an approval process similar to ETOPS approval.

ETOPS requirements do not apply to non-commercial operations (e.g. ‘NCC operators’).

Dangerous Goods (DG)

Aircraft operators need to hold a specific approval to carry certain items classified as ‘dangerous goods’. For more information, we are pleased to recommend The Dangerous Goods Office Ltd.

The Approval Process

To be approved for any of the operations on this page, an aircraft operator needs to satisfy the competent authority that it will comply with all the applicable requirements. The requirements vary according to the type of operation but typically involve:

  • Aircraft/equipment certification;

  • Operating procedures (described in the operations manual);

  • Flight crew training programmes and

  • Aircraft maintenance arrangements.