Flying in Europe

Below is an article written for the Europa Club, which aims to cover all aspects of flying a Permit aircraft in Europe. We do our best to keep it up to date, but apologise if any link doesn’t work.

Europa Club Guide to Flying in Europe

The pleasures and satisfaction of flying in Europe are considerable. Much of the airspace is very uncluttered, the airfields are mostly pretty, well appointed and amazingly cheap to land at, and the variety of scenery is enormous. With my Europa I find it is possible to reach Spain, Italy, Austria Czech Republic or Sweden within a day from the UK, and for me and many of my friends, who have discovered the joys of European touring it has become the main reason for wanting to own our own plane. Flying along the Venice Lagoon sea wall looking down on St Mark’s Square, crossing the Finnish Archipelago and flying through the Alps past Mont Blanc rate as some of my all time favourite memories.

A significant proportion of the Europa fleet is of course based in nearly every country in mainland Europe. Contacting locals can be an excellent way of getting country specific information and tips on the best places to go. When flying away from your own country it is also worth thinking of the Rescue Service run by the Europa Club, should you encounter problems.

Although much of the regulation is simple, there are rules and in some cases complexities that it is essential to be aware of before embarking on European flights. I will try to cover here what you need to know to travel anywhere in Europe in your plane. The information is to the best of my knowledge correct and up to date, but it is offered without guarantee and the Europa Club will not be held responsible for any problems you may encounter. I will deal with the following matters:

  1. Flight Plans
  2. Customs & Immigration
  3. Permission to fly in European countries
  4. Getting Airfield and Country specific flight information
  5. Getting Weather
  6. Notams
  7. What equipment and documents you need
  8. RT Communications
  9. Finding Accommodation
  10. Excise Duty on Fuel

1. Flight Plans:

It is in general obligatory to file a flight plan for any flight crossing an international FIR boundary, and this also applies to some but not all of the FIR boundaries within Schengen, even though the customs barriers have been removed on the ground. If you are flying from an airfield with an ATC unit, filing a flight plan is easy. You can pick up a blank form from the operations unit at the airfield, (or download one from FPL FORM), fill it in and hand it back for them to process. Instructions on filling in FPLs are to be found in some VFR Flight guides or on the relevant CAA General Aviation Safety Sense leaflet, which is also available on line at the CAA site, http://www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/20130121SSL20.pdf If you fly from a strip or anywhere without an ATC unit, then it is more complicated. You can fax your completed FPL to 01489 612793 (part of AFPEX). There is no facility to phone in with your FPL in this country. A new computer based system has just been recently introduced by NATS called AFPEx. One needs to register for this and the rules for filling in the electronic FPL are quite a bit more complex, but if you plan to do much foreign travel it is worth registering, and getting on top of the system. (NATS Registration line 08456010483). SkyDemon now offers the simplest of all means for submitting FPLs for those who subscribe to it, and the package which offers easy route planning and Notam & weather retrieval is now extremely tempting.

On the continent things are usually considerably easier, (& you may detect a recurring theme here!). Most airfields of any size will have a dedicated computer on which you type in your FPL, or otherwise they have a phone line for you to dictate it to the central flight planning authority. At very small airfields the locals will know the telephone number for lodging FPLs assuming you haven’t found it in your local Flight Guide. Nominally authorities can insist on take off being a minimum of 1 hr after filing the FPL, but it is almost unknown in my experience for anyone to insist on this.

Flight Plans need to be closed. If you land at the planned airfield and this has an ATC unit they will do it automatically, but if you are landing at an airfield without ATC then you generally need to telephone after landing. The number for this will be in the country’s Flight Guide, and the locals (if you can find any!) should also know it. For France the number is 08 10 43 78 37.

2. Customs & Immigration:

With the exception of flights to Ireland, Isle of Man & Channel Islands you don’t actually need to tell UK customs authorities you are going, but you do need to tell them you are coming back, and in practice it makes sense to tell them you are both going and coming back – they are less likely to set the heavies on you when you do come back! The relevant form is called the GAR form. There have been major changes in the regulations and organisation of GAR form submission starting September 2014. Full details of the new arrangements are here: GAR. A GAR form can still be picked up from operations at your local airfield assuming it runs an ATC. Alternatively it is downloadable from: GAR FORM The form is self explanatory with the possible exception of the question: ‘Is the aircraft in free circulation in the EU?’ to which I always answer ‘Yes’. The completed form can be handed in at your ops desk or alternatively emailed to ncu@hmrc.gov.uk or faxed to 08702403738. Alternatively you can file it online via the AOPA site or through the new government site. This requires you to register and sadly to pay £2 for each form submitted. It is otherwise user friendly, allowing you to store aircraft and passport details of regular flyers. An educated guess of time of return is required, and if you find you are going to be significantly early or late it is worth informing ops at the relevant airfield, or contact the ncu at their email above or by phone 0870 7853600. There is now an GAR EMERGENCY NUMBER 0845 723 1110 should you need to submit or modify a GAR form in an emergency situation.

It has been widely assumed in the past that you can return to a customs airfield (such as Lydd or Southend) without submitting a GAR form, but UK Border Force have recently (Nov 2013) confirmed that this is not the case and EVERYONE RETURNING TO THIS COUNTRY MUST SUBMIT A GAR FORM. Penalties for not doing so can be as much as £1000! From the EU 4 hrs notice is required; from I of Man, Ireland (both parts)or Channel islands 12 hrs and from non EU countries 24 hrs.

When crossing from the UK to any European country you need to land at an airfield with customs facilities (since we have chosen to maintain our national border), although curiously enough, the reverse does not apply. You can return to your strip as long as you have told the authorities. Some European airfields have 24 hr customs or daylight hours customs, but others need a stated time of prior notification to the customs unit. Information on specific requirements are to be found in that country’s Flight Guide.

Flights to Ireland, Isle of Man & Channel Islands have special requirements under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Broadly this requires departure from and arrival at one of a list of designated airfields, and also prior notification to Police and the Border Force with 24 hrs notice. Full details are set out in the website above, or in the AFE VFR Flight Guide, and more limited details in Pooleys.

3. Permission to fly in European Countries:

Back in 1980 there was an ECAC agreement to the effect that EU countries would allow Permit aircraft from other EU countries to fly in their country without restriction or prior permission. Unfortunately not all countries have implemented this agreement. Many countries do allow unrestricted access for all EU Permit aircraft, whilst others insist on owners seeking prior permission (usually requiring copies of Registration, Permit, Conditions, Validity and Insurance documents). A few other countries appear to require prior permission but never answer letters, or just possibly prefer that you fly there and not bother them!

Countries not requiring prior permission (for Class A Permit aircraft):

  • Austria
  • Croatia
  • Channel Islands
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Holland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Macedonia
  • Malta
  • Monaco
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • San Marino
  • Serbia & Montenegro
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom – but see next section of this guide

Countries believed to require prior permission:

Those marked ** have failed to reply or been very slow to reply to enquiries in the past, so obtaining permission is likely to prove difficult! * Spain is very slow to grant permission and many have the impression that they would rather not be asked, as is possibly the case for Portugal, although they have replied to requests promptly in my experience. Belgium has repeatedly stated that prior permission is required and charges 92 Euros for granting it and then demands detailed pre notification of every flight. Having said that very large numbers of Europa pilots have flown along the Belgian coast to Holland without permission and without problems. Changes are under way in European aviation that may well get rid of these anomalies within the next year or two.

Despite the fact that a number of planes have flown through some of the countries on the list above, without getting permission and without experiencing problems, it is clear that the view point of the country’s CAA should be expected to be different from that of an airport operator (for whom you offer income). There is the distinct possibility that if your plane was involved in some incident in such circumstances, then the country’s authorities might decide to throw the book at you, leaving you locked up somewhere unpleasant in the meanwhile! So my advice would be to always apply for permission, but I might well be tempted to go anyway if there was no reply! If you are seeking permission, the chances of a swift reply are likely to be improved if you include a translation of your request, which can be produced free by various on line apps.

4. Getting Airfield and country specific flight information:

Jeppesen produce flight information manuals (previously known as Bottlangs) for all European countries. These contain plates and other airfield information for all the significant airfields in the country, but also much more important information, including country specific regulations, contact details for the various authorities and weather services, customs, and lists of restricted and danger areas together with their controlling authority contact details. As an example North East France bordering Germany has overlapping restricted areas of amazing complexity and flying through it would be difficult without the information on the radio frequencies of the controlling authorities. Actually since France & Germany are no longer thinking belligerent thoughts, these restricted areas are usually inactive in my experience and the authorities ‘wave you through’!

www.vfrguide.com/european-flight-notes/ has airfield plates for all sizeable airfields throughout Europe, and access to the country’s AIS, thus giving you much, but not all of what you get from the Jeppesen guides. In particular approach plates and information about reporting points & danger zones is not generally available

Some countries of course produce their own Flight Guides (like the French Delage) and it is also possible to derive all the information from some countries Air Information Service on line (the French system is particularly good in this respect : SIA and if you were simply flying over to Calais, Le Touquet or somewhere similar it might be tempting to use their site to get plates and other info.), but the effort of finding everything you might need to tour around France is such that investing £30+ in a Jeppesen Trip Kit may well seem like good value, and I would strongly recommend that you or someone in your group (if flying with others) have a Bottlang for every country you fly through. These trip kits are also sold as various combinations of countries, and also their price varies quite a lot, so shop around! I do not feel the need to have this year’s Bottlang for every country, but am happy enough to go with one within a few years of currency. If you simply need an up to date French Airfield plate + related info it is directly available at: www.sia.aviation-civile.gouv.fr/aip/enligne/uk/VACProduitPartie.htm

Charts: Most countries publish their own ½ mill VFR charts. Jeppesen previously published charts for virtually every European country, but have stopped doing so in 2014, possibly to encourage everyone to buy their very expensive electronic charts, (SkyDemon offer a significantly cheaper electronic chart service). As in this country your charts should of course be current, but we are led to believe that an up to date electronic chart counts in this respect, so I have personally kept my old Jeppesen charts and cross refer to SkyDemon when planning.

5. Getting Weather:

The weather links page on the Europa Club web site gives what we hope is an unbeatable source for weather in Europe. Alternatively most sizeable airfields on the Continent will also have their own met service and will print out for you relevant en route weather charts and TAFs & Metars. As in this country you will find that most en route flight information services will happily give you weather at your destination and alternates.

Alternative sites for aviation weather are:

but I guess you will settle on the Europa club site as your starting point!

6. Notams:

Most larger airfields will have a computerised system for obtaining Notams. Alternatively you can obtain these on your lap top or the hotel computer. You can log onto the NATs site or alternatively you can go to the French SIA site given in 4) above, click on ‘Notam’, then ‘Narrow route’. and the rest is easy, significantly easier in fact than on the NATS system! (I have to confess that I get all my Notams, home or abroad from the French SIA site!) SkyDemon subscribers get Notams provided automatically when planning a route. More detail on the Notams page in Flight Briefing

7. What Equipment and Documents you Need:

Equipment can be considered under two headings, what you are legally required to have and what it is advisable to have:

Legally required kit:

  • Life Jackets – required by UK and France to fly over the Channel.
  • Transponders – Required in controlled airspace in most European countries. In Holland Mode S is now required and a number of European countries (as in the UK) appear to be making mode S compulsory within the next year or so. On the other hand the introduction of mode S requirements for GA in Holland produced overload of the ATC system and there was a large central area of Holland where mode S is mandatory but it is required to be switched off!
  • PLBs or ELTs – compulsory in UK if travelling more than 10 mins from land. Compulsory as from Jan 2009 in France for certified aircraft and since 2013 for Permit aircraft. Compulsory for all aircraft in Holland, and strictly speaking it is an ELT rather than a PLB that is needed. It seems likely that the requirement for a PLB or ELT will spread to other countries. The LAA is gathering information on this and keeping updated Info on its website.
  • 8.33 KHz Radio. As from Jan 2014 one needs an 8.33KHz radio to enter Class C or above airspace in Europe. Class C is not found in the UK but is relatively common in continental Europe, so you either need to update your kit or be very careful in your planning.

Advisable kit:

  • Survival suits – There is no doubt that a survival suit considerably increases your chances of survival if long immersed in cold water, although it is pertinent that Europa Classics will float indefinitely and the only XS known to have ditched floated long enough to be towed ashore with the occupants. Survival suits tend to be uncomfortable, although there are inexpensive and relatively comfortable models such as the Fladen Survival Flotation suit developed for trawlermen to actually work in, selling at under £100. These have been shown to allow less than a 2 degree drop in body temp. when immersed in 5 degree C water for 1 hr.. Info at: www.tacklebargains.co.uk/acatalog/Flotation_and_Buoyancy.html I personally have not been persuaded that they make sense for a Europa (which floats( as opposed to something like a PA 28 (which sinks in 3 mins).
  • Dinghy – Assuming you have time to get it out and inflate it (not a given if you fly in something like a PA28 !) and can get into it, a dinghy offers much greater advantages than a survival suit. One could hope to survive for days in a covered dinghy, whereas survival times in cold water are probably only roughly doubled by a survival suit. Again it seems to me to be only necessary for long cold crossings, and not for a short Channel crossing in the warmer months of the year.
  • Mode S & PLBs – If you are planning on any significant amount of foreign touring it makes sense to me to invest in a mode S transponder and a PLB sooner rather than later.
  • Back Up Radio & GPS – A good case can be made for carrying a back up hand held VHF radio and a small GPS, to avoid the significant problems that arise if your main bit of kit fails, especially if you are flying unaccompanied by other aircraft

Documents you need:

  • Passport
  • Flying licence & RT Licence
  • Permit documents including conditions & validity documents
  • Insurance Certificate
  • Registration Certificate
  • Noise Certificate for some countries. See Country Specific Info in Flight Briefing Menu
  • For completeness – Proof of owner’s permission to use plane if not yours.
  • Interception Procedures – It is a legal requirement to carry a copy of the CAA General Aviation Safety Sense Leaflet 11, ‘ Interception Procedures’, or the equivalent. These are widely available, and are printed inside the back cover of the AFE VFR Flight Guide, or via the CAA website: Safety Sense Leaflet 11

Be Aware that the French Police have recently begun a drive to check up on planes’ documents.

8. RT communications:

The universal RT language is of course English, and European airfields with Air Traffic Control in my experience offer an excellent standard of English using phraseology that we are all familiar with. Outside International airports RT services will generally speak to their own nationals in their language and to others in English. At small airfields without formal ATC all the RT may be in the local language, and as a matter of practicality and courtesy it behoves visitors to make an effort to get on top of the standard phrases for describing movements within the circuit. For France a list of standard phrases appears in the Pooley’s Delage Flight Guide, or on line at: http://flyinfrance.free.fr/ under the RT section. Be aware that French language requirements have been tightened for airfields listed as French only, and speaking loudly in English will no longer work! There is now an EASA booklet on standard RT phraseology to be used for VFR flights in Europe at EGAST

9. Finding Accommodation:

You may be the hardy sort who likes nothing better than pitching his tent somewhere near your plane. If so, it is fair to say that Continental airfields are likely to be more helpful than UK ones. At small airfields you may well find that camping is allowed and indeed encouraged on the airfield. If not there is a pretty good chance of there being a camp site within a reasonable distance. If on the other hand you have got to that stage in life where a proper bed is called for, then I would strongly recommend www.booking.com.

This site lists the hotels in any town you ask it to, and also gives available rooms and prices. These prices are generally discounted and certainly are likely to be considerably less than you would be quoted if you simply turn up at the hotel desk and ask ‘Have you got a room?’ We have found that looking at booking.com on the laptop after we have fixed the weather and notams in the morning allows us to fix rooms in about 5 minutes. It certainly beats the slightly anxious business of turning up at your destination and then spending ½ hour or more on the phone before eventually finding rooms somewhere that wasn’t quite what you hoped for, or asking the advice of a taxi driver who will probably have an arrangement with one of the more expensive local hotels!

For France a useful source of information on accommodation and other things like restaurants, sports facilities and tourist attractions is Pilote Plus – Guide Escale du Pilote.

10. Excise Duty on Fuel:

It is a curious anomaly in this era of economic stringency, but it is possible to claim back the tax on any fuel you take off with to travel out of the UK. This when I last checked (Nov 2013 amounted to 37p/litre on Avgas and 58p/litre on Mogas.

Forms can be picked up from operations at airfields or downloaded (with full instructions) from: Drawback It is necessary to have the VAT receipts for the fuel purchase.