The term ''Third Country Operator' (or TCO) refers to non-European aircraft operators conducting commercial air transport (CAT) flights into the EU. The TCO regulation [Commission Regulation (EU) No. 452/2014] requires TCOs to hold an authorisation issued by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in order to be able to operate into or out of the EU. The purpose of the authorisation is to confirm that the operator meets international operational and safety standards. Operating permits (relating to commercial traffic rights) may also be required by individual member states.

The TCO requirements do not apply to non-commercial operations and there are also provisions to allow for 'one-off' or short-notice non-scheduled flights by commercial air transport operators that do not hold a TCO authorisation.

What are the technical standards that the TCO operator has to comply with?

A TCO operator will need to demonstrate compliance with international standards as stipulated in ICAO Annex 6. There are no additional requirements. An operator may be allowed to deviate from the certain ICAO standards if it can demonstrate that mitigating measures have been put in place to ensure an equivalent level of safety.

How do I apply for a TCO authorisation?

Details of how to apply to EASA for a TCO authorisation are given on the EASA website.

How does EASA monitor compliance?

EASA continues to monitor the operating standards of operators after TCO approval is issued. The primary means used for this is ramp inspections conducted under the SAFA programme but EASA also uses other indicators such as safety reports and the performance of the national aviation authority responsible for oversight of an operator as assessed by the ICAO USOAP programme.

EASA will use all of these factors within a risk-based approach and may conduct desktop or on-site audits of operators. Where compliances with ICAO standards are identified then EASA may raise findings and require and operator to take corrective action in order to maintain their approval to operate into Europe.

Audit Preparation

If you need assistance to prepare for an EASA assessment or audit or to address findings raised during an audit then McKechnie Aviation can help. Please get in touch.