Piloting in Germany & Europe

Converting an American FAA license to JAR (Europe) standards has been tedious and expensive.  So far I’ve tallied more than €1000 in expenses and have flown all of two times.  Surely there’s a light at the end of the tunnel…

A brief background: I earned my FAA Private Pilot’s License (PPL) in 1994.  Misplaced priorities and a lack of cash kept me largely out of the air for 17 years until this past winter when I returned to Texas to get my license current and go after an Instrument Rating (IR).  The grand scheme was to return to Europe and be able to fly here.  Berlin is so close to Poland, Denmark, Sweden, the Alps…  So, save cash by doing the hours building and certifications in the US and then fly here.  Haha!  While successful in getting up to about 190 hours and earning my IR this past February, I didn’t fully realize all the steps involved in getting the my PPL transferred over.  While I knew about the written and the practical, I was unaware about the slew of other steps.

First though a word about general aviation in Germany.  In a nutshell it’s drastically reduced and heavily constrained when compared with the US.  When I think of all the paved airports in the US, both controlled and controlled, and compare them with the scant few (most grass) fields around Berlin, it’s easy to see that general aviation is a hobby for the few here.  Combined with all the noise abatement restrictions and numerous airspace restrictions, it’s clearly not the open & welcoming environment of Texas ;-)

My progress to date and the necessary steps are as follows:

      •  Finding a flight school - I needed a flight school to help even explain the hoops I needed to jump through, much less prep me for them.  Needless to say, none are conveniently located.  I opted for Flugschule Hans Grade largely because their website showed they had expertise in these license conversions.  They’re based southeast of Berlin in Schönhagen (EDAZ) so to get there I have a once-an-hour 40 minute train ride followed by a solid 20 minute bike ride.
      • Flugfunkzeugnis – In order to show proficiency in radio communication, I needed to take a 2-day course at the flight school where we practiced radio calls in German followed by an exam at a central office.  There were three students in my class and eight  folks in on the exam.  This made sense because it was largely translating terms & situations I was familiar with.  I also found it beneficial because there definitely are some differences in terminology, sequence and content from what I was used to.  While others did the exam in both English and German in order to be proven proficient in both, as a native English-speaker I was only allowed / required to do the exam in German.
      • Sofortmaßnahmen – I had to participate in an emergency first aid course.  This is the same course required for driver’s license applicants, so my class was filled with 18 year olds.  This was largely computer based and took about 4 hours.
      • Certified paperwork – This was a learning experience in and of itself.  After more than 10 years of living here I was unaware that you could go to the Bürgeramt and have documents “begläubigt” (validated).  It took me a couple trips to figure out exactly what I needed and to get everything sorted.  In the end, I needed to bring copies for validation of the following:
        • the last pages of my pilot’s logbook
        • my German ID card
        • my US pilot’s license
        • my first aid course completion
      • Overall background check – this I requested at the Bürgeramt and will go directly to the Luftfahrbehörde
      • Driving background check – I guess if I’m a good driver I’ll make for a good pilot??  Dunno.  In any case that was also requested at the Bürgeramt and sent to me.  Turns out I only have one speeding ticket on record ;-)
      • Verification of Authenticity of Foreign License and Rating – basically this is just a form allowing the German Luftfahrbehörde to contact the American FAA about my records
      • Application forms – here just a couple standard forms about what I’m trying to do.  Blue ink is appreciated, it turns out ;-)
      • Written test – Here fortunately I only had to take two modules, Regulations (Luftrecht) and human limitations (Menschliches Leistungsvermögen).  Fortunately there’s a free online database of the various questions to help with brushing up!
      • Medical – This was extremely thorough, with a lung capacity test, EKG, hearing test, urine sample, etc.  The doctor was very friendly and coincidentally her office is above one of my favorite restaurants, Dolores.  Now I know who was responsible for when the restaurant was flooded from above and had to close for a few months! ;-)
      • Practical test – I’ll update you when I complete this one – still have to take it!
      • And last but note least… English Proficiency – Pretty funny that I have to take this, but I understand the worldwide importance.  I hope to take the Level 6 (good for life, not every 4 – 5 years like the Level 4 & 5, respectively) shortly.  Again, I’ll post an update when this last piece is taken care of.

All in all it’s a lot to take care of, but it does all have its point.  Most importantly for me in this whole experience is learning about the differences.  It’s one thing to take off, avoid other traffic, and land safely.  It’s another to with confidence plan, communicate, and participated in the (somewhat limited) general aviation community here.  Looking forward to my first flights!

Ahh, one last note: I’ll only be transferring over VFR PPL.  Transferring over the IFR is a completely different beast!  Not only would I first need 100+ hours in IMC, but I’d have to take ALL the 14 ATPL theory tests!  One thing at a time…