Advantages of studying in the US for the EASA PPL holder

At the first glance it does not look very natural to go study to the US if the final goal is the EASA CPL, but I’ve chosen this way on purpose.

First of all, my final goal is not only EASA license but both EASA and FAA. That is because I consider job opportunities all over the world, and in some places FAA license can be more valuable. But even for Europe it makes sense to consider studying in the US:

  • the flight hour is way less expensive – in 2018 I got Cessna 150 for $100 per hour;
  • the flight experience is much more interesting – usually there is more traffic, mush more various airports (both controlled and uncontrolled), more complicated airspace. Additionally, usually there are no landing fees almost everywhere;
  • ATC speaks English. They talk really fast and provide a lot of information, and if you struggle with communications, it’s a great way to learn. Moreover, the ATC is really great almost everywhere;
  • it’s always fun to travel somewhere. I believe that it’s a great advantage for a (future) pilot. And flight experience in a different country could be a great vacation time.

Cost-wise I believe that my way was even less expensive than the “standard” EASA PPL, night, IR and CPL.

I still consider my US experience as the most valuable one during the entire training towards CPL, but, of course, there are some drawback too:

  • a student visa is required;
  • TSA flight training approval is required for Instrument Rating and Multi-Engine Rating;
  • living expenses are a little higher;
  • you should travel and live far from home.

I consider that the drawbacks are negligible compared to advantages. For some more details about the differences between Europe and the US please the post.

Fly safe!

CPL Long Cross-Country

Solo cross-country flight of more than 300 nautical miles (it is about 540 km) with at least two full stop landings in different airports other than a departure airport is a requirement for any Commercial Pilot. This is correct both for the EASA and FAA, but FAA also requires that one of the airport should be located at least 250 NM from the departure point.

It means that in Europe it is possible to pick many airports nearby and fly a route between them considering that the total distance will be more than 300 NM. Some schools advice the routes where the most distant aerodrome is located at about 50 NM, which barely qualifies for a “normal” XC requirement in the US, and fly sort of a large circle around the home airport.

There is one more less obvious difference. In the US it is officially allowed to fly this long XC with the instructor considering that he does not manipulate flight controls, and both can log PIC time. In Europe only one person can long PIC time in a single-pilot airplane, so most generally this long XC must be solo. It could be done with the instructor if he does not log his flight time and does not interfere by any means. But better to fly solo than trying to explain why you still need a safety pilot if that question arises.

It is very important to know the requirements for each particular country: this long XC can definitely qualify for both FAA and EASA if it is a solo flight with one full stop in an airport more than 250 NM from the departure point and another full stop anywhere else.

Another important part for this flight – it must be fully done under VFR bor being valid for Czech CAA. If it has a night or IFR part, it will not qualify – I got an official response about that.

I did have both night and IFR part for my long VFR cross-country since I returned after sunset then. I would be OK if I logged that part as a separate flight, but I did not, and by the Czech CAA requirements I needed a pure day VFR solo XC.

The weather in Czech Republic in October is not perfect, and the sunset is before 5 pm. But today the sky was almost clear, the visibility is perfect, and that happiness lasts from about 10 am to the late night. That kind of day happens once in a week or even less frequently now.

The problem was that all Cessnas were fully booked, and the Tecnam was booked for some more than an hour in the middle of the day. I needed at least 4 hours for that flight, and that means that Tecnam was not an option too: I did not have 4+ our after sunrise and did not have them after that reservation too.

Fortunately that tecnam reservation was canceled just yesterday! I immediately booked the aircraft for 6 hours, and started my planning for Sazena to Ostrava.

Tecnam is even better than Cessna 152 for long cross-country flights: it has 6+ hours versus about 4 hours in Cessna. I can fly even without refueling. And the tecnam has more modern avionics, which is better in a long XC.

I planned the route around Caslav and Pardubice controlled airspaces, then to Olomouc, and finally direct to Ostrava. One full stop landing there, then coffee if I have time, then one landing in Gradec Kralove and then back to Sazena.

On the way to Ostrava some clouds started to form at about 3000 feet. They were not turbulent, but the tecnam is not certified for IFR, so I had to avoid them. I climbed to 4500, and found one more layer way ahead. The visibility was perfect, the weather in Ostrava was CAVOK, the layers were between scattered and broken, so I was able to stay VFR and decided to proceed at 4500 feet.

The clouds today

Near Ostrava I found a clear sky. After landing I had an assigned follow-me car – it was the first time in my life!

The wind at 4500 feet had more headwind component, and my flight became 30 min longer. I decided to get the weather, check the route and fly back right away for having some margin before night time.

On the way back I was hoping for some tailwind, but the wind weakened and became almost calm.

In Gradec Kralove I found a lot of traffic for Czech Republic: two airplanes and one helicopter were doing the circuits, somebody was taking off. It is very unusual, especially at the weekday.

By requirements I needed a full stop landing, so I taxied to the ramp, paid the landing fee and taxied back to the runway: there wasn’t much time left to sunset. Thanks to the FBO, they drove just to the airplane for getting the fees quickly and conveniently πŸ™‚

The landscape was amazing on the way back. Some fog started to form, but it was still a perfect VFR. The photo does not reflect the reality well – the visibility was still pretty good.

Evening clouds

Near Sazena the fog dissipated almost entirely, and the landing was easy and smooth.

As a result, today I met my long XC requirement for CPL, and I need less then three flight hours to complete the course. All these hours will be dual in our Cessna 172RG. I am looking forward to it!

Tecnam or Cessna?

About a month ago I started my EASA Commercial Pilot training. I flew about 4 hours and went back home, and now I am going to finish it.

Our school has some cessnas 152 and one TECNAM P2008JC. Usually all C152 are all booked well in advance, but Tecnam is less popular, so I booked it for almost a week.

This aircraft is really great. I has more modern avionics, it flies much better, and the endurance is more than 6 hours (compared to about 4 hours for Cessna 152). And it is still a high-wing.

Tecnam P2008JC

I believe that it is less popular than Cessnas because the majority of students are doing their PPL, and our school uses C152 for exams. For PPL switching aircrafts leads to more hours to complete the program, and it becomes more expensive. You should get used to a slightly different glide slope and flare attitude, and learn the instruments.

Commercial pilot program is a complete different story though. It takes less time to get used to a new aircraft, and the exam will be in a Cessna 172RG anyway.

I like it more than a Cessna 150/152 even though I made my first flight in Cessna 150. But this tecnam looks like a step forward. First of all, it has a glass cockpit (not a G1000, but still). It does not have IFR-certified GPS and autopilot, but its PFD has altimeter and speed bands, and different display modes. At first you feel like in a boeing.

Tecnam also glides better than a C150/152 – the engine-out distance can be much larger. But it is not that forgiving though, especially on landing, better to act much more precise. Probably that’s one of the reasons that it is not extensively used as a primary trainer.

In the air the airplane flies like a charm. Probably that’s because the weight is slightly less too. The fuel gauges work much better too: in a Cessna I used to not rely on them at all.

There are some drawbacks though. Tecnam acts much less predictable in a stall – at first you think that it wants to spin right away when you try to perform some stall exercises. It requires much more precise piloting on landing. It has a stick instead of yoke. Its cruise speed is 80-90 knots – about 10 knots less than Cessna. It has a fuel pump (like low-wing pipers), and you should switch tanks in flight (again like in pipers). It’s more difficult to get into the cockpit πŸ™‚

In overall I like it more than a Cessna 150/152, and it is definitely a valuable experience. I am not sure that I’d like to use it for my PPL back in 2017, but at the CPL level it definitely worths it.

OK CPL!

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.

Cessna 172RG

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!

EASA Intrument Checkride: Nice Try

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:

Planned route to Vodochody

Route to Karlovy Vary is much more direct:

Planned route to Karlovy Vary

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.

Wish me luck!

Finally EASA NVFR!

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚ Now ready for the Instrument checkride!

Radio Operator Certificate – Europe

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 podatelna@ctu.cz 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 πŸ™‚

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.

EASA Night Rating (NVFR): Navigation/Cross-Country Flight

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.

Our Cessna at the ramp

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.

Brno tower – sorry for the photo quality

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 πŸ™‚

Jet airplanes in Brno

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 πŸ™‚

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.

EASA Instrument Rating: Level Up!

So, the blog is alive, and I still keep going.

Any professional pilot path starts from the PPL (Private Pilot License). After that you’re good to go by visual cues all by yourself. In Europe only day flights are legal (night rating should be obtained to fly at night), in the US you’re allowed to fly at night as well. The course is usually from 40 to 60 hours with a theoretical and flight tests at the end.

Then in the EASA world you need a night rating. It’s 5 flight hours, and it does not require any formal exam apart from a green light from the flight instructor. With this rating it’s possible to fly at night.

The next step is usually the Instrument Rating (IR). Typically it is the most expensive part of the training. I already possess the FAA IR, and now I am ready to add the EASA IR to my EASA license.

Normally the EASA IR program includes at least 45 dual flight hours, and requires 50 cross-country hours as a prerequisite.

Foreign IR holders (including FAA IR) can go through the competency-based IR program. Formally it is at least 40 instrument hours, including 10 hours in the EASA-approved flight school, at least 25 total dual instrument received time, and up to 30 PIC IR hours.

The ambiguous point is how the national CAA interprets dual flight instruction (whether FAA instruction counts or not). And the key difference is that dual received time cannot be considered as EASA PIC time (FAA allow to log PIC time in some cases).

In my case I need 10 hours in the EASA flight school since I already have the rest including passed ATPL theory. But it’s really hard to find a school which is interested in doing CB-IR: usually it’s much easier for them (and more profitable) to sign you up for a complete instrument course.

I found the school in Czech Republic (it’s Aviaticky Klub).

So I am flying again, again in a Cessna 172, again by instruments. Now it’s a diesel version. In Czech it is not required to use a view-limiting device, so I can also look outside. The adventure is starting!

EASA ATPL Theory: The Exams are done!

Today was The Day! I passed all the rest of the EASA ATPL theoretical exams. All 14 exams are done! I am so excited about it! I remember my university master’s degree thesis, when I was studying days and nights during some months to get it done.

It took about 7 months, countless sleepless nights, hundreds of studying hours, one trip to Poland and three trips to Czech Republic, and some grey hairs.

Was it challenging? Absolutely. I did not even imagine that it would be that hard. Probably I would have taken a time off from work for that period if I knew that. But I do need money for further practical part, so I kept working too.

At some moments I even wanted to drop it (and who did not?), but in that case I would have started from scratch. I know and I always knew that I need it to be done. I had The Aim.

It was the most difficult part so far. The subjects are interesting, but under that pressure it could be a little demotivating. You should study whatever you feel, whatever happens. Every day except Monday you should take a test. Three attempts with less than 75% result is a fail. One minute after midnight submission is a fail. Three failed tests is a course fail with no-refund. You should really take it serious.

I was studying during commuting in subway, during my meals, during my weekends with parents, before work, after work, in the washroom – in any available moment. And that lasted 6 months. I had similar experience during my university exams preparation, but that usually lasted no more than 2 weeks for each session.

I passed all my tests. Some tests were passed from the second attempt, and mainly because of timeout – some questions remained unanswered. I submitted some tests literally 5 minutes before a deadline. But I passed everything with average result more than 90%.

I passed all my CAA exams from the first attempt too with a 90% rate in average. I supposed that I would have my scores from the CAA, but actually all I have is a document confirming that I passed. I kept my records by myself, and I am kind of proud of my result πŸ™‚

Czech Republic requires online registration for the exams. Some of them were available in June, some in July, and some only in August (for example, Meteorology).

I can say that Oxford or Bristol ATPL books are really good for preparation. Apart from that, I highly recommend using some question bank to track the progress. It does not really matter which one (BGS Online, AviationExam or ATPL Questions), but I prefer AviationExam due to the best UI, large database, nice detailed explanation and large community. Of course the real exam differs, but if you know the subject and understand it, it should not be a problem.

Now I am going to describe my last session.

Meteorology

84 questions, 2 hours, my result is 93%. I found some strange question like ‘setting altimeter subscale to msl/zero elevation’. I know about altimeter subscales, but the formulation was very ambiguous.

Some questions were about ceilings, cloud base, METARs, TAFs, winds, weather maps, cold/warm fronts, true altitude computation, temperature gradients (DALR, SALR, ELR).

For me 2 hours was more than enough for the exam.

Instrumentation

60 questions, 2 hours, my result is 91%. I suppose that 2 hours is even too much, and the exam is rather easy. I remember questions about datalink, CPDLC, FMS, FMC. The rest is a piece of cake. I found even 2 almost the same questions about advisory light color.

Flight Planning and Monitoring

43 questions, 2 hours, my result is 85%. There was a thick supplementary materials book, and additionally it was the only exam where Jeppesen Airway Manual was available. There were the questions about fuel reserves, no-return points, isolated airports fuel, routes, NOTAMs, wake turbulence, equipment, charts for time and fuel for reaching the flight level. I barely made it all in time, but I really enjoyed the questions – they are very practical.

I have some additional notes, and probably I will write something more about them when I have time. Good luck with the exams for those who is on the route!