Bernie Baldwin reports on aircrew licensing and pilot ‘transferability’ between regulatory jurisdictions.

Travelling from country to country is the role for the majority of pilots, usually when they are in command of their aircraft. There are many too, who use their career to actually move around the world and experience different countries and cultures – or simply go where the money and promotions are.

Before a pilot exchanges his or her domicile though, there is the usual administrative paperwork to be done, particularly ensuring that their licences are acceptable. This is not always straightforward despite some of the major regulatory authorities having very similar regulations.

Worldwide Recognition

According to the ICAO website, “The Convention on International Civil Aviation, often called the Chicago Convention, provides for worldwide recognition of flight crew licences issued by any member State of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) provided that:

1. the licence meets or exceeds the ICAO licensing Standards of Annex 1 – Personnel Licensing to the Convention on International Civil Aviation; and
2. the licence is used on an aircraft which is registered in the State which has issued or validated the licence.

If the licence is to be used on an aircraft which is not registered in the issuing State, the licence holder must obtain a validation of the licence from the State of Registry or alternatively obtain a new licence issued by the State of Registry.”

ICAO points out that it does not actually issue licences. “Licences issued by ICAO Contracting States … are habitually called ICAO licences,” the Organization notes. “The fact is that there is not one single international licence issued by ICAO or any other organisation.”

When it comes to pilots flying for airlines of different countries under its authority, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) situation is delineated relatively easily. “For pilots who hold a licence issued by EU [European Union] Member States and EFTA [European Free Trade Association] States (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein) – collectively the ‘EASA states’ – there is mutual recognition and therefore immediate acceptance of these persons,” an Agency spokesperson explains. “For ICAO [sic] pilot licence holders, there are provisions for the validation and subsequent conversion to Part-FCL licences which should be implemented in a standardised way by the ‘EASA states’.”

Regarding how lengthy the process would be for a pilot (with all the appropriate Type Ratings) from another jurisdiction to be accepted into the pilot workforce in Europe – and how much re-training or examining would be required, the EASA spokesperson remarks, “As already mentioned, for the ‘EASA states’ there are no additional administrative steps. For ‘ICAO’ licence holders wishing to validate/convert a licence, the training requirement is predicated on their existing experience.

“However, with an appropriate validation, based on the pilot’s underlying ICAO compliant licence, the pilot can continue to operate within the ‘EASA states’ for up to a maximum of two years whilst pursuing a conversion to a Part-FCL licence. This is a once-only process to be completed under the supervision of one of the competent authorities of the ‘EASA states’. It is not foreseen that the pilot should be able to move from state to state restarting the validation process each time,” according to EASA.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approach to accepting pilots from other jurisdictions to fly for one of the airlines under its authority follows similar lines. “A pilot licensed by an ICAO member state has the option to apply for a US private pilot certificate and instrument rating under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) Part 61.75. When using this conversion path, the pilot receives a US private pilot certificate (and instrument rating) based upon his or her valid foreign pilot licence,” explains an FAA spokesperson. “Note that certain foreign military pilots whose country is a member state of ICAO, may apply for an FAA commercial pilot certificate.

“FAA certification at the ATP level may be included as part of a US airline-training programme. An airline may choose to hire individuals with either an FAA ATP certificate or with an FAA commercial certificate and instrument rating provided the applicant has the experience required to apply for a US ATP certificate,” the spokesperson continues. “The FAA will issue an ATP certificate to a Canadian pilot who previously passed a Canadian practical examination based on the Bilateral Agreement and Implementation Procedures for Licensing (IPL) negotiated between Canada and the US. A similar agreement is currently under discussion with EASA. This agreement would extend similar conversion opportunities to pilots licensed by EASA Member States.”


With a training provider’s point of view, CAE also sees no single standard for pilot licence transfer. “ICAO sets a minimum standard for licensing, however it is up to each country to determine how it will be implemented,” says Aline Massouh, the company’s marketing manager, Civil Aviation Training Solutions. “The process is managed by the authorities; it is rather complex and varies by country/jurisdiction. The application to a conversion process varies depending on the country and on the pilot’s currency.

“The conversion process is often restricted for PPL. For example, if a pilot has a licence from South Africa and wishes to work in the United States (FAA), they will only be recognised for their PPL, even though they may have an ATP. There are some exceptions and agreements between countries, for example between the US and Canada,” adds Massouh.

Moving on to the processing time, re-training and/or examinations required by pilots, the CAE executive notes, “Once again, it varies by country and pilot currency. In Europe, there are a lot of exams that have to be completed as part of conversion of licences.”

The requirements for those coming into the US can take a while to complete. “The timeline depends on the pathway the applicant uses,” the FAA spokesperson comments. “A pilot operating a multi-engine aeroplane for an ‘airline’ governed by Title 14 CFR part 121 must have an ATP multi-engine aeroplane certificate issued by the FAA. The airlines have training programmes all newly hired pilots must attend and pass regardless of the applicant’s previous experience.

“Notwithstanding the time for these airline programmes, the conversion of a foreign licence to an FAA certificate requires that Airmen Certification Branch within the FAA Office of Foundational Business coordinate with any foreign aviation authority. This process assures the legitimacy of any foreign applicant’s credentials. The process takes approximately 21 days from the time of receipt of the request,” the Administration’s spokesperson adds.

The FAA’s deal with Canada has echoes of the ‘EASA states’ scenario. “Applicants who take advantage of Canadian conversion for an FAA ATP certificate and military or Canadian pilots who convert at the FAA commercial level and who also have the aeronautical experience to qualify for an ATP certificate, would be candidates for immediate hiring by a US air carrier,” says the FAA spokesperson. “Others would need to earn an FAA commercial certificate and minimally have the experience to qualify for an FAA ATP certificate. The pathway to an FAA commercial pilot certificate is minimally one or two days provided the foreign applicant has the applicable experience and is able to pass the knowledge and practical tests.

“The ATP certificate requires an ATP Certification Training Program (ATP CTP) graduation certificate in order to take the ATP knowledge test. These courses generally last a week or two. Commercial pilots who meet the experience requirements for an FAA ATP certificate will find that many US airlines will assist the applicant to meet all the training requirements in order to take the knowledge and practical tests for an FAA ATP certificate.

“Type ratings convert to an FAA certificate without further testing under the FAA/TCCA [Transport Canada Civil Aviation] IPL and for military pilots, type ratings are issued initially at the commercial level but will automatically upgrade upon being issued an FAA ATP certificate. However, other individuals must take the US instrument practical test in order to avoid a ‘limited to VFR’ restriction,” the spokesperson notes.

Conversion of Ratings

Pilots trained and Type Rated using a method not used in the USA, such as an MPL course, gain no exemptions. “Conversion of ratings is limited to the existing IPL with Canada, military conversion under Part 61.73, and conversion for ICAO country certificate holders under Part 61.75,” the FAA spokesperson confirms. “Outside of these provisions, individuals would be required to hold at least an FAA private pilot certificate with appropriate category and class ratings in order to qualify to take an FAA practical test for the type rating. The applicant would need either to hold or to obtain an instrument rating completed concurrently with the type rating.”

CAE’s Massouh concurs. “MPLs are not recognised in the US. The pilot would have to go through the regular conversion process in place in the country. For example, the pilot would first have to convert to a regular (non MPL) licence in their home country and then apply to the regular conversion process,” she confirms.

The EASA stance on MPL-trained pilots is, as might be expected, rather different. “This would be a matter for the jurisdiction to which the pilot is moving,” the Agency’s spokesperson remarks when considering how the US might deal with such an applicant. “However, the MPL is an ICAO licence and as such it is expected that the holders of such licences would be credited in accordance with their experience and the policies of the receiving state.”

In Asia, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) has similar requirements to EASA and the FAA with regards to converting a foreign pilot licence. The licence needs to be issued by an ICAO Contracting State and the applicant must have a medical certificate and appropriate Type Ratings issued by the same licensing authority.

The applicant must also show “evidence of having completed at least one proficiency check or flight test in the 12 months immediately preceding the date of application”, according to CAAS. The Singapore authority adds that the prospective employer of the pilot wishing to convert a licence should submit the conversion application on the applicant’s behalf to CAAS for assessment.

As a global player, CAE has the opportunity to see the variations in the requirements of different countries. “Given the growing demand, there are cases where airlines can facilitate the process, helping pilots obtain a temporary licence (Certification of Validation). In this case, the airline applies on behalf of the pilot to obtain a temporary licence to fly on for three months, while the pilot goes through the conversion process,” Massouh observes.

Like EASA’s aforementioned two-year validation option, this route is also being taken by the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand which, in its latest version of “Recognition of overseas flight crew licences and ratings” which was issued on 11 December 2017, has a section entitled, “Short term validation of overseas flight crew licences”. Here the Authority notes that a current PPL, CPL or ATPL issued by the licensing authority of an ICAO Member State “may be recognised for the issue of a NZ Validation Permit”. This is not a pilot licence but “a short term document, which facilitates the exercise of overseas flight crew licence privileges in NZ registered aircraft”.

The applicant’s ‘native’ pilot licence will only be given validation to an equivalent or lower level of NZ licence and the pilot must meet the necessary English language requirements.

Beyond this Validation Permit, the process of gaining a New Zealand CPL or ATPL using an unrestricted current equivalent or higher licence issued by an ICAO member state’s aviation authority, follows a similar pattern to those set out by the FAA, EASA and CAAS. Additionally, the New Zealand CAA’s document sates that the Authority “will neither recognise nor issue overseas type ratings for aircraft types that do not appear on the NZ civil register”.


Finally, the ramifications of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union (known as ‘Brexit’) on the aviation industry has been a major topic since the UK’s referendum in 2016. Currently, of course, UK-registered pilots can take their licences to work in any of the ‘EASA states’, but with EASA being an “Agency of the European Union” that is likely to change if no special agreement is reached when the UK leaves the EU. EASA’s spokesperson confirms that the Agency “is supporting the EU through technical input but is not party to these negotiations”. Meanwhile, at the UK CAA, the official position is that the country’s “continued membership of EASA is vital for aviation in the UK”.

As CAE’s Massouh summarises, “In the interest of pan-European regulations, EASA might ultimately decide to treat the UK CAA in the same way they treat other ‘EASA states’ who do not belong to the EU, such as Switzerland and Norway.” If not, UK pilots can expect to go through the same procedures they currently do when they transfer to a non-EU jurisdiction.

Published in CAT issue 3/2018