I am currently on the way to my EASA Commercial License!
As I already mentioned, I’ve chosen some rather unusual route to my pilot career: EASA PPL, then FAA IR and FAA CPL, and finally EASA CPL. It looks a little strange, but in reality it has some advantages.
Initially I came to Czech Republic to finish my EASA Instrument and Night rating, and it took more than a month. I also obtained my Czech Radio Operator Certificate.
After my Instrument checkride I still had some paid days of the accommodation, and the weather was nearly perfect, so I decided to start my CPL training before going back home.
Commercial pilot course requires only 15 hours for EASA Instrument Rating holder (if the EASA ATPL theory is passed and total flight time is 185+ hours).
These 185 hours should include a long cross-country flight (300+ nautical miles with two full stop landings at different airports). In Europe there is no requirement of some point at least 250 nm from the departure airport – only the total distance.
The weather was perfect, so all small airplanes were fully booked at least a week in ahead. But Commercial Pilot course requires 5 hours in a complex airplane (retractable gear, flaps and constant-speed prop). That airplane was available.
Usually this airplane is used for exams and for final 5 hours of the Commercial Pilot program to get used to this Cessna and smoothly pass the exam, but I have no other option, and we decided with my instructor that we start with complex hours.
The airplane has a registration mark OK-CPL! I just could not resist. It’s a nice Cessna 172 with a retractable gear, and I got my first hours with her!
I completed my competency-based instrument rating course and recently got my night rating. The examiner was able to squeeze my exam into his schedule on Sunday, and the weather was perfect, so I had my checkride today.
It was my second attempt since previously the attitude indicator failed in the school Cessna 172, and we were not able to make a flying part.
The practical part seemed less difficult than in the US. There were some important moments though: for example, in Czech Republic transition altitude is only at 5000 feet, and usually students have to change the altimeter setting during the checkride.
We flew from Roudnice to Karlovy Vary and back: LKRO–LKKV-LKRO. Our airport is uncontrolled, so we picked up our IFR clearance in the air after take-off. This time instead of following my route I had vectors from the ATC. The important part is switching to the standard pressure after 5000 feet. We climbed to FL80.
Before and during the descent it is important to switch the altimeter to QNH before that transition level, make an approach briefing, set the avionics and get the weather. I got the ILS29 approach, and then GNSS11 with circle-to-land for 29. After the approaches I had to depart visually and climb to FL80 again even though we flew to the East – ATC assigned that level for some reason. Since we were in a piper, I had to switch tanks, and it’s better to have some airport in sight while doing that just in case.
The rest was pretty straightforward: descent, cancelling IFR clearance, closing IFR flight plan and visual landing.
I outlined the following important moments:
DO NOT forget about a transition altitude and transition level! In the US we usually fly below them, but in Czech Republic transition altitude is generally at 5000 feet;
do not forget about the second altimeter when changing altimeter setting! Forgetting to do that will be a fail;
my examiner asked to set both NAV1 and NAV2 for the ILS approach. I used to set NAV2 for the missed approach, but Karlovy Vary does not have a VOR for a go-around, so better to not waste NAV2 and use it for a cross-check;
request for descent could be made without desired altitude which means that we prepare for landing according to the flight plan and leaving the assigned flight level;
circle-to-land must be made by timing only, not just staying in the safe area with a runway in sight;
don’t forget to report departure time during flight plan activation in the air;
it is essential to make a start-up request at a controlled aerodrome;
IFR clearance should be requested before taxiing;
non-precision approach can be made using the DME or GPS for measuring distance to the airport instead of timing;
DME is pretty common in Czech Republic;
always fly the airplane: keep the course and altitude, follow the glideslope, never fly below DA/MDA without 100% assurance of safe landing, properly estimate holding entry, know the airplane instruments of the particular airplane.
Basically the checkride went as a usual flight. It is even possible to get the examiner involved – for example, ask to set the second altimeter. But in that case it is also essential to check that it was really set properly – some examiners could check your PIC skills by intentionally failing some tasks 🙂
I also prefer to verbally comment all my actions. It clearly shows the intentions and situational awareness. It could also highlight wrong decisions though, but I suppose that it will help in future while acting as a crew member. For example, some of my basic callouts were “airspeed alive”, “positive rate, no runway – gear up”, “we have L, QNH 1016, RW in use 29, slight headwind, no crosswind”, “gas – left, undercarriage – gear down, mixture – full rich, props – full forward, seatbelts – fastened, please check yours”.
As a result, I have the fresh EASA Instrument Rating 🙂
Yesterday I got my EASA NVFR (night rating), and today I manage to schedule my IFR checkride. It does not make sense to wait if the examiner is available and all lessons are done.
Usually students fly to Vodochody or Karlovy Vary for instrument checkrides because these airports are controlled, and they have published instrument approaches.
I got the route to Vodochody. The airport is very close to our flight school, but the instrument approach route is almost as long as the one to Karlovy Vary. Probably the picture will tell more than words:
Route to Karlovy Vary is much more direct:
Oral part was much easier than the FAA one.
Practical portion finished during a runup check: the attitude indicator failed to level. This instrument is essential for IFR, and this airplane was the only IFR-equipped Cessna in our school. We also have a P28R (Piper with retractable gear and more powerful engine), but our school requires a checkout for any new type, and the examiner was not able to wait for it.
The examiner agreed to fly with me on Sunday, and I decided to get checked in P28R just in case. I was not sure that the ADI will be fixed by Sunday, and wanted to have a backup.
So I scheduled a checkout flight for this evening. The airplane is a complex one: it has a retractable gear, flaps and constant speed prop. It also has a 200 hp engine, so it is faster and more stable in the air. But it requires to think quicker. There were also some more differences like HSI (Hrizontal Situation Indicator) instead of conventional CDI. And this piper is more expensive.
I have a very strong feeling that we will use this airplane for my checkride. And if I get the route to Karlovy Vary (which is very likely since Vodochody tower is usually closed on Sunday), the total cost will be almost the same as in Cessna due to less flight time. This piper is really faster than our diesel C172.
For being able to obtain the EASA Instrument Rating an applicant have to meet some criteria. The full list can be found in Part-FCL 610. Summary is the following:
hold at least a PPL;
have 50 XC hours as a PIC (and for EASA cross-country time is not required to be more than 50 miles from the point of origin);
pass written exams at least for the Instrument Rating level; usually it’s better to pass all ATPL subjects – they are good for both instrument and commercial, and they are not that harder to study.
Night rating is technically not required if Instrument privileges will not be used at night, but my school policy includes it as a prerequisite. I completed my CB-IR curriculum more than a month ago, but I already mentioned that it is not so easy to get night rating in summer or early autumn.
Due to weather we started from a cross country flight, and today I completed the circuits part.
Today the weather was nice at the airport. Slight crosswind and rather calm air allowed to concentrate on proper flaring and basic orientation at night.
It is not so easy to find a grass runway at night. The lights are unidirectional: they are very well visible from the approach, but not from other directions. I remembered my first confusion some years ago when I struggled to find grass runways during the daytime: without experience it’s harder than one can think 🙂
I felt pretty confident, my flying was predictable, and I was very comfortable with our diesel Cessna 172, so I soloed after about 1h flying with the instructor.
Even in the US we flew under supervision of a safety pilot. So today was my first night solo! And I got my EASA night rating. One more achievement 🙂 Now ready for the Instrument checkride!
Some schools in Czech Republic require their students to have a Radio Operator Certificate for operating a radio. As I understand, some EASA members do not have this requirement for domestic flights (but I don’t know for sure). For me it looks strange for a pilot license holder, since even the EASA PPL has a separate ‘VFR Communications’ exam, and the license itself contains some records about communications, for example, ‘VFR English’, ‘IFR English’.
Nevertheless, Czech schools now require this separate certificate (like in Canada). The problem is that in Czech Republic the exam must be taken in Czech only. The only solution for English speakers is to convert a radio license from another EASA member.
I have a Radio Operator Certificate from Netherlands: I got it just in case about 2 years ago because of some rumors about the upcoming requirement. It turns out that the Czech certificate can be obtained by conversion procedure. Actually it was the only way from non-Czech speaker.
Firstly you need to fill the form (can be downloaded from the CTU website). For some reason the form exists only for a Czech version, so DO NOT switch the website language to English. The form can be filled and printed only from some strange specific software for windows only.
Then I made my photo, copied my passport and my existing certificate, attached the filled form and sent to email@example.com with some explanation that I want to obtain a Czech certificate based on the European one. It is also possible to pay 400 CZK and attach the receipt, but I was not sure what credentials I should use, and the instructions are not very straightforward.
I have been waiting for an answer about 2 weeks and did not get anything. I tried to call, but nobody was able to communicate in English, and simply did not know which department to switch me to, so I decided to visit the CTU in person.
Somehow I managed to explain what I want to, and some employee came out with the form number 13. I remembered that my form should be number 9, and that really paid off since the form 13 is the application for a certificate, which requires taking exams in Czech.
The employee did not speak English very well, and it took about 5 minutes to figure out that it is indeed possible to fulfill my request, but that’s an another department’s area. After about 5 more minutes we found out that the man speaks Russian, and we solved it almost instantly.
It turned out that nobody has checked the email yet, but as soon as I am here, it will be done today 🙂
In some hours I got an email that I have to sign the form and pay the fees. Unfortunately the form must be signed by hand, so I needed to visit them once more. But this time I had an appointment. The fees could be paid by buying special stamps for government services (they are called kolki), they are available at any post office. So I handed out the stamps, signed the form, and now expect the certificate in 2-3 days.
Night rating in essential for having the Instrument Rating checkride according to my school curriculum. Usually students just obtain it in spring or autumn (because of early sunset) after their PPL, but I came for the EASA Competency-Based IR after getting a FAA CPL, and somehow started my instrument training before getting a night rating.
EASA night rating requires 5 hours of training at night without any checkride from the authorities. Single-Engine night flying is more dangerous and require better skills, so there are not so many instructors willing to do that. Additionally, in summer there are a lot of students, and instructors are flying all day, so they are tired to fly at night. Moreover, the sunset is very late, and the weather is not so perfect for night VFR – we have at most 2 flyable nights in a week.
As a result, the queue of students waiting for their Night VFR accumulated pretty quickly, and I’ve been waiting for my night training more than a month. And without NVFR rating I was not able to schedule an instrument checkride and start commercial training. Literally, I’ve spent more than a month for fly less than 5 hours!
I really started to consider going to Ostrava for some days to get it with another flight school (it’s about 400 km driving one-way and about 1.5x more expensive than in my school), but finally just a day before I supposed to go I got a call that my training can be done tonight.
The weather was great: clear sky, steady wind, almost no turbulence. It as a little cold though. The forecast for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow was not so good: light rain and clouds. We decided that today is better to fly cross-country, since we can’t tell when it would be possible again.
Usually our school students fly night cross-countries to Brno: the airport is controlled, there is always somewhere on the tower, the approach is rather simple, and the airport is certified for night flights. It is not so far as Ostrava, and far enough to meet the night cross country requirements.
It is essential in Czech Republic to file a flight plan for night VFR. And, of course, it’s necessary to have the convenient relevant VFR maps. In other words, it’s time to activate ForeFlight Europe subscription. Finally we have a good popular EFB (Electronic Flight Bag)for flying in Europe. We did have a SkyDemon before, it is good enough and it is a de-facto standard EFB for VFR flights in Czech Republic, but ForeFlight is still way better. I am happy that they finally added Europe.
Night flying is simply beautiful. It’s amazing! The air is calm, the traffic is rare, and the scenery is astonishing.
It’s safer to fly higher at night since the altitude buys some time in case of something unpredictable. We’ve chosen FL070 to fly there and FL080 on the way back. It’s about 2 km above the ground.
The Brno airport looked pretty much like Gainesville (rather small regional airport in Florida). It is one of the largest and busiest in Czech Republic though. The ATC was nervous somehow, and asked to fly below the TMA (Terminal Control Area – class D controlled airspace) even though there were no other traffic. I made some photos of smartwings’ boeing after landing 🙂
On the way back we asked to overfly Prague, and got a clearance. It’s marvelous to fly over a big city in a small plane!
I remember that I did not see any significant difference between day and night landings in the US: with good landing lights and wide concrete/asphalt runway it looked very similar. And now I finally understood what’s the problem. The difference becomes obvious on a grass runway with not-so-powerful landing lights. Even for a concrete runway you clearly see the advantage of LED 🙂
Grass runway landing at night initially looks like a “black hole landing” – like seaplane landing on a glassy water, when you cannot perceive height very well. Actually it is not so bad, and after 2-3 landings with an instructor you can do it rather well, but initially the difference with a day landing is huge.
Night flying is rather close to instrument flying. You cannot always see the horizon, you cannot always see the obstacles, and you must trust your instruments. I believe it can be very challenging after day VFR only, but after some instrument experience it is not so surprising. It is not actually my first night flight too – I had some training in the US for my commercial license.
Finally, my night cross country is done. I still need some circuits time, but the most weather-critical part is done. And night flying is really beautiful.