The aviation safety regulatory framework of the European Union (EU) has momentum. Several European countries not part of the EU fully embrace EASA regulatory standards, while the regulatory systems of several other countries across the world are also aligned with that of EASA. Mario Pierobon outlines EASA’s worldwide reach.

“Good alignment has been achieved mainly in the maintenance and airworthiness areas,” says Giancarlo Buono, Regional Director, Safety and Flight Operations Europe at the International Air Transport Association (IATA). “More work needs to be done in operations, training, and licencing” between the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the United States Federal Aviation Administration, who have been cooperating for many years to align as much as possible their safety regulations. “Also, other States around the world, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, are developing their national regulations based on EASA rules.”

There are three levels of alignment with the EU regulatory system. These are:

  • through an official agreement, 
  • through voluntary transposition of the EASA system with EASA involved, and 
  • through voluntary transposition of the EASA system without EASA’s involvement.

Types of Agreements

The first level of alignment with the EASA regulatory system is through an official agreement between the EU and the State(s) involved, and these fall into three types, depending somewhat on geographic proximity.

European Economic Area neighbours Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway – which are not members of the EU – are however full members of EASA and have transposed the EASA standards as they are, according to EASA. “Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway (through the EEA Agreement) and Switzerland (through a bilateral agreement), have full access to the EU internal market. They are EASA Member States and have adopted the EU aviation regulatory framework,” says EASA.

Other agreements aim for the integration of EU neighbours to the east and south in the EU’s internal aviation market. These include the European Common Aviation Area Agreement, which is a single agreement with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia, and the Common Aviation Area Agreements with individual neighbouring states, specifically Morocco, Moldova, Georgia, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Algeria. “These agreements imply the adoption by the EU neighbouring partners of parts of the aviation regulatory framework, and detail successive phases of regulatory harmonisation. Currently, these countries are at various stages of this convergence process; from negotiating the agreement to advanced levels of convergence,” says EASA. “However, none of the countries have successfully completed all the phases of regulatory harmonisation, as a result these States are not yet part of the EU internal aviation market.”

A third type of agreement with EASA exists – bilateral air safety agreements (BASA) – individually between the EU and Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, the USA and recently the UK, through which (parts of) the respective regulatory frameworks are considered equivalent, thereby serving the recognition of each other’s products. “These BASAs are currently only addressing the validation of product certification (what we refer to in the EASA system as initial airworthiness), although for some negotiations are ongoing to extend the scope of the agreement,” says EASA.

Editor’s Note: For previous analyses of post-Brexit relations between EASA and the UK Civil Aviation Authority, see these CAT features:

Transposition of the EASA System

The second level of alignment is through voluntary transposition of the EASA system, possibly supported by a working arrangement with EASA. “In this case EASA and its counterpart (typically the National Aviation Authority) agree to cooperate and EASA typically supports the counterpart upon request (subject to availability of resources) in adopting the EU aviation regulatory framework in its country,” says EASA. “Together with the technical assistance projects that EASA is implementing on behalf of the EU, this type of voluntary transposition may provide EASA with some insights on how the EU requirements are being transposed.”

The third alignment level is achieved through voluntary transposition of the system with EASA often not involved. “In most cases, when a country wants to design or update its aviation legal framework, they use either the US or the EU regulations as a model. EASA is not necessarily aware or involved, and therefore it may not know in full the detail of the reasons of this transposition,” says EASA. “However, when a country decides to use the EU law as a model this is typically because the EU system is seen to have a set of advantages.”

EASA System Advantages

The advantages that the EU system is typically seen to have include the provisions for system-based – not task-based – oversight, which provides cost efficiency. The performance-based requirements include rules that state the safety objective to be achieved. The EU system is also seen as adaptable, i.e., less rigid; acceptable means of compliance (AMC), guidance materials (GM), and certification specifications (CS) define means to achieve the objective and to adapt these to new technologies. “Lawmakers of the Commission do not need to be involved, matters can be handled at the Agency’s technical level; this is contrary to other systems where the means to achieve the objective are embedded in hard law, and lawmakers need to be involved,” says EASA.

The aspect of proportionality is equally important; there is a risk-based approach towards those involved in the underlying aviation activity, e.g., leisure or sport vs commercial. “The EU system is scalable for different sizes and shapes of country and modular, providing a structured approach which is easier for the industry. It is also open to comment and transparent through various ways of engagement and consultation, including the public consultation of many proposals,” says EASA. Moreover, the system is supported by EASA; in fact, EASA assists the EASA Member States in fulfilling their ICAO obligations through the development of ICAO compliance checklists, publications, training, and other materials which are easily available and can therefore be used by non-EASA Member States as well. 

The EU system also facilitates regional cooperation. Since EASA is an ICAO regional safety oversight organisation (RSOO), the system de-facto facilitates regional cooperation, and can thus serve as a model for other regions. Lastly, the requirements are available in English and other languages – which can mean less translational impacts on interpretation”.

Alignment with EASA Standards

Very much like the alignment between EASA and the FAA, maintenance and airworthiness are those regulatory domains of third countries that tend to be more aligned with EASA. “Looking at the BASAs, we have concluded agreements with other major States of design of manufacture, through which we accept each other’s system as equivalent, resulting in minimal administrative burden and technical assessments for the EU aviation community when exporting/importing products from those states,” says EASA.

“With regards to other States, we see more and more States also aligning their operations regulations. Still, training and licensing are the less aligned,” says Buono. “Normally, when the EASA requirements are transposed, we see very little difference, mainly in terminology, nothing essential.”

Involvement in EASA’s Rulemaking Process

According to Buono, foreign industry is involved in the regulatory process of EASA through their participation in specific advisory bodies. “Foreign States cooperate with EASA though specific bilateral agreements,” he says.

Indeed, foreign entities have the possibility to participate in two ways to the EASA rulemaking process: through the engagement in the development of the rules, and through the consultation on draft rules. “As regards engagement in the development, not all rules are developed solely by EASA experts. Sometimes, we open specific rulemaking projects for which we consider that specific expertise is required and is not available within EASA to external experts,” says EASA.

EASA then creates the so-called ‘rulemaking’ or ‘expert’ groups. “The task of these groups is to provide advice and expertise to EASA. We consider this input when developing the rule. Participation from foreign authorities or foreign organisations in these groups is possible, if there is a specific expertise or interest,” says EASA. “For example, the FAA participates sometimes in rulemaking groups where EASA develops new aircraft design standard when the objective is that similar design standards are also developed within the US regulatory framework. Harmonised standards in the end will facilitate the export of European aircraft into the US and of US aircraft into the EU.”

The EASA’s rulemaking process contemplates the consultation of its advisory bodies as well as consultation of specific stakeholders or the wide public. “As regards advisory bodies, some associations representing foreign entities in countries with which the EU has a bilateral aviation safety agreement also participate in EASA’s advisory bodies,” says EASA. “Furthermore, selected third countries with working arrangements, or specific agreements with EASA to adopt and apply the Basic Regulation and its implementing rules, are observers to EASA’s advisory bodies.”

As far as the consultation of specific stakeholders or the public is concerned, EASA affirms that anybody who has an interest can participate by commenting on a draft rule that EASA submits for consultation to a specific stakeholder group or for public consultation through a notice of proposed amendment. “This includes any foreign entity. When reviewing and considering comments received, we do not make a difference whether the comment is made by an EU or by a foreign entity,” says EASA.

According to Buono, the EASA regulatory system is one of the most advanced and effective in the world. “Although there is at times a tendency to overregulate, any harmonisation of regulations around the world, based on EASA standards or any other globally recognised standard, will be beneficial for the industry,” he concludes.

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