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 US-UK, UK-US License Conversion and General Aviation Differences Guide Dauntless Aviation




I. Introductory Stuff.


I.1 Updated Info


An kind reader sent us this update in 2016. Please use it, as the rest of this (considerably older) page at your own risk.
In my personal circumstances, I wanted to verify my UK SEP PPL in order to fly with the same privilidges in the US this coming summer.

It's relatively straightforward, but the information is contained on the CAA and FAA websites, rather than as one guide.

First of all :-

Complete the CAA form SRG1160. When completed you email it back to the CAA along with the fee (currently 43)


At the same time as completing the above, you must send a similar form to the FAA (Form 8060-71) to make the official request to the CAA for verification. There is no fee for this and it has links to templates, but is self explainatory and is simply email back to them. All the details are on the form.


There is then an email of acknowledgement from the CAA telling you to do the above with the CAA and It's then a waiting game. The CAA processed my payment after about 3 weeks, so I knew the process was moving forward.

Another week later (today) my letter arrived from the Airmen Certification Branch AFS-760 confirming the verification of my UK PPL and Class 2 medical certificate. The letter of certification is valid for 6 months.

You just then contact the FSDO (Flight Standards District Office) in the area that suits. I am flying into Boston, although will be flying in New Hampshire, so for me, it's the Burlington, Massachusettes FSDO. I rang them and made an appointment for the day after I arrive in the US, only as my flight will land too late for a realistic chance of making the appointment. It's a case of taking my licence, medical, letter of certification and passport to their office for the attention of their duty inspector. It takes 20 minutes and there is no charge. My licence will be issued on the spot and they said they look forward to making me a coffee. The full list of FSDO offices by state can be found below.


The only fly in the ointment is that once you have nominated an FSDO, then that's the one you must attend, so don't nominate Florida if you are planning on flying in Alaska!

You can bypass the appointment in person with the FSDO of your nomination and complete this part of the process in UK.

I've been I contact with Mr. Andrew House who has the ability to verify whilst still in the UK to expedite the process (please scroll to the bottom of the email for his details, for your records - adamhouse@hotmail.co.uk) who replied straight away and could not have been more helpful. Unfortunately however, the fee for his assistance is 385. It would be cheaper for me to fly to Boston for the day outside of my planned visit and have my licence issued early.

To confirm - the only charge is the 43 to the CAA. That's it.

I hope the above is of some assistance and if nothing else, may be of benefit to a future enquiry within your office?


I.3 A Word of Warning

Some of this guide is probably wrong and now outdated since I wrote this first in the early 2000s and haven't updated it much or at all since. I write it from what I have understood and what I have experienced in helping several people do transitions each way. Don't take this guide as a bible - rather, consider it a living document. If you discover that something isn't quite so, please send me an email and I will be happy to correct it. Oftentimes, the powers that be, be that FAA officials in US FSDOs or UK officials from the EASA or MoT make changes or ad hoc policy that it's hard to keep on top of. Let's work together to make this site a resource for all pilots. Please direct your suggestions to:


I.4 Why not two guides?

At first, it might seem that in order to tackle this issue, I should write two guides - one for US pilots interested in the UK, and one for the other way around. Well, there's only one guide, and this only partially is due to laziness on my part. The main reason that there's only one guide, however, is because to really understand what's going on, it's helpful to see the interaction of the two systems. You can, of course, skip over the parts that really don't pertain to you.



A Tale of Two Systems

It's crucial to understand from the outset that the American and UK systems of pilot certification/licensing are not parallel. The US has what we can broadly refer to as a "linear" system, and the UK (as Europe and much of the rest of the world) has what I'll call a "dual" system.


The US/FAA System

The US system is overseen by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).

This includes oversight of airplanes, helicopters, gyroplanes, and gliders.

For the most part, the FAA does not oversee "ultralights" and "microlights", but if you are a microlight pilot from the UK wishing to fly lawnmowers in the US, I suggest that you find some other source of information than this web page, as I know little about this. The EAA might be a good place to start. Also, there are a few Ultralight FAQs on the web which discuss licensing and certification.

The primary regulatory text of the FAA are what used to be officially called the "Federal Aviation Regulations" (FARs), but are now officially called the "Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14: Aeronautics and Space" (aka "CFR 14"). In practice, most people still refer to the regulatons as the "FARs" (eff-ay-arr[s]). The FARs are broken down into chapters, called Parts. A very useful part is Part 61, whcih deals with certification of pilots and flight instructors. The full text of the FARs can be read online.

The FAA has published guidance in the past with regards to getting a US license based on a foreign certificate. However, much of what they have written on the topic is "pre-9/11" or otherwise out of date. This web page is an example of probably-out-of-date information from the USA. In today's world, your plight to get a US certificate will be somewhat more argy-bargy.

Your contact with the FAA will likely be through one of the many Flight Standards District Offices (FSDOs). Here's a list of them, USA-wide. Note that you can't just show up at a FSDO: you will need to make an appointment. Be sure to bring copious photo ID with you.

In the US system, a pilot (and here as in the whole document, I'm referring to airplane pilots primarily) can reasonably expect to progress as such:

This is to say, a Private Pilot flying Cessnas at the local airport can, with sufficient hours, hope to "build up" to a commercial pilot certificate or even an ATP certificate! In fact, it's possible (and not even particularly uncommon) to get any certificate up to and including ATP without ever stepping foot in a formal training facility of any sort - just working with an independent flight instructor working out of his car. Of course, it's also possible to go through an established training school, but, except for the slight hiccup that some training sources are certified under Part 61 and some under Part 141 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, all training is more or less the same, and, in general, a pilot would face little administrative difficulty in "jumping around." That is to say, it's not difficult for somebody to do their private pilot certificate at a local airport's flight school, then their instrument rating at a very professional outfit such as FlightSafety Academy, and then their commercial certificate with an independent CFI.

Update! The requirements for an FAA ATP have changed significantly since this document was originally written. There is now a required classroom component for new FAA ATPs. If you are thinking to convert your EASA ATPL into an FAA ATP and wonder about things like whether you need to do a clasroom component, please CONTACT THE FAA IFO (International Field Office) in Jamaica, NY and ask. Don't just google randomly. We strongly suggset that you likewise don't pester random companies for free advice about this and don't rely on articles or hearsay unless you are 100% sure the source is both trustworhy and up to date. Contact the good people at the FAA IFO who are paid to be knowledgeable and answer questions from people like you and can give you an answer based on YOUR specific flight and training experience, since this varies from pilot to pilot.

Notice how I'm calling the US things "certificates" - there is no ppL in the US - pilots are CERTIFICATED, not licensed. I don't mean to sound righteous about this -- despite all the nitpickers who will correct you if you call it a license, at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. But when you say "PPL" or "CPL" or "ATPL" in the USA, you're basically giving yourself away as some sort of foreigner.


The basic types of certificates in the USA are STUDENT, RECREATIONAL, PRIVATE, COMMERCIAL, and AIRLINE TRANSPORT (ATP).

  • You get a STUDENT certificate basically by passing a Class 3 Medical Exam at a FAA Authorized Medical Examiner (AME) and requesting a student pilot certificate. Click here to search for an AME near you. There are approximately 20 FAA AMEs in the UK and dozens more throughout the rest of Europe. If you were an ab-initio US pilot, you'd need a student certificate before you could solo.
  • The RECREATIONAL pilot certificate is a mostly abortive attempt by the FAA to make a certificate with pretty stringent limitations that's easier to get than the PRIVATE certificate. In practice, few people have bothered getting this certificate, and I encourage every reader to pretty much ignore the fact that it exists. It's useless and stupid. That said, in 2003, there has been talk of the FAA instituting a new SPORT PILOT certificate which, frankly, sounds a whole lot like the RECREATIONAL fiasco all over again. I don't really understand why the SPORT PILOT certificate would be desirable, but the EAA seems to be excited about it.
  • The PRIVATE pilot certificate is the realistic basic unit of certification in the FAA world. If you know what a UK PPL is, then you basically know what a US PP certificate is. However, there are some important differences that will be gone into in some depth later in this document.
  • The COMMERCIAL and AIRLINE TRANSPORT certificates are, similarly, essentially analogues of their UK counterparts, with several differences.

There are also FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR, GROUND INSTRUCTOR, and a bunch of other less common certificates (FLIGHT ENGINEER, anyone?) but I won't discuss them now. If you are a flight engineer or (gasp) flight navigator and want to convert these to US equivalents, click here.

Each CERTIFICATE has RATINGS associated with it. Except for the STUDENT pilot certificate, which is, like the early universe, void of form, each pilot certificate type has one or more aircraft category/classes associated with it.

So, one can have a PRIVATE PILOT certificate with an AIRPLANE-SINGLE-ENGINE-LAND rating. This is commonly abbreviated as PP-ASEL. One can SIMULTANEOUSLY hold a COMMERCIAL PILOT-AIRPLANE-MULTI-ENGINE-SEA (CP-AMES) certificate/rating. So, you can have commercial (private, recreational, ATP) priviliges as far as one aircraft type is concerned, but only PRIVATE priviliges for another aircraft type. Not all certificate types apply to all aircraft type - there is, for example, no AIRLINE TRANSPORT Glider certificate/rating.

requires Airplane Multi-Engine Sea Rating


If you were living in the USA and had no internalization issues, the way to get a certificate and/or rating would be to (in general):

  • accumulate the necessary aeronautical experience (with an instructor or what have you). The necessary aeronautical experience for most FAA certificates and ratings can be found in CFR 14 Part 61. (The exception to this is if you are training under part 141 or Part 142, which most of you reading this document will not be). TREAT CFR PART 61 as a BIBLE. The requirements for FAA certificates and ratings are very clearly spelled out there - go through your logbook to carefully figure out what you need vis a vis these requirements.
  • take the required knowledge (written) test. BLATANT AD: my GroundSchool software can prepare you for any FAA written test in the comfort of your own home in no time flat! Please download it today!
  • In general, have the appropriate medical certificate (issued by an AME)
  • get bits and pieces of paper (often in the back of your logbook) signed off by a certified flight instructor (CFI) (note: the ATP certificate requires no such signoffs). Some certificates and/or ratings require you to get signed off by a CFI-I (Instrument Instructor) or MCFI (Multiengine Certified Flight Instructor). Some percentage of instructors, myself included, hold all three instructor ratings.
  • take and pass a combination flight and oral test with either an FAA Pilot Examiner or, more likely, an FAA Designated Examiner. In the UK, this test is known as a "flight test." In the USA, the official term for this is "PRACTICAL TEST", though most people simply call it a "CHECKRIDE." If you say "flight test", people will get confused, maybe thinking that you mean some test where you're testing an airplane or something a la Chuck Yeager.

FAA Pilot Examiners and FAA Designated Pilot Examiners

An FAA Pilot Examiner is an experienced pilot and employee of the FAA whose job includes giving practical tests. FAA Pilot examiners charge no fee, as they already get a salary from the FAA. FAA pilot examiners typically do several jobs at the local FSDO (Flight Standards District Office - more about this later) than simply giving practical tests. In fact, in practice, FAA Pilot Examiners are typically so occupied with other tasks (this is not a knock on them - our FAA FSDO people work very hard) that they don't actually give very many (if any) practical tests at all (except for initial Flight Instructor tests - this is a special case). Rather, they will likely hand you over to ...

A FAA Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE, often just "DE") is an experienced pilot who has been designated by the FAA to give practical tests. FAA DPEs receive recurrent training from the FAA in Oklahoma city such that the practical tests should pretty much be the same no matter what DPE you take the test from. Certainly, the universe of tasks that a pilot applicant may be asked on a practical test is clearly defined by a series of documents known as the "Practical Test Standards" (PTS), but, well, you guessed it--more about this later. A "checkride" with a DPE costs money - I don't want to put hard numbers down as these things tend to change, but as of 2004 my students paid a good Continental Airlines Pilot and DPE $300 for the privilige.

This is a good time as any for me to suggest to any FAA people who might be reading this - the UK really could use a new DPE. How abot this experienced pilot?

However, if you're reading this, you might already be a certified UK pilot. And, you may therefore have heard something about how you don't need to take a flight test, but rather just need to do a bit of paperwork and, voila! you're an american pilot, lucky strikes, bomber jacket, cocky attitute, and all.

This is true. Or rather, it might be true. Like all good things in life, this is covered in more detail later in this document. So, you can quickly search for that section, or you can feast on the informative goodness of that which is before that. Hey, it's your call.


RATINGS (Including Instrument Rating)

So we know that each certificate can have aircraft ratings associated with it. You basically get a rating when you take a checkride. Let's say you wanted to add muti-engine airplane priviliges to your private pilot certificate. No problemo - you just need to get the appropriate training and then take another checkride! Fortunately, for the most part when you add an aircraft category/class rating to an existing certificate, such as a multiengine rating to an existing PP-ASEL certificate/rating, you don't need to take the private pilot knowledge (written) knowledge test over again. Yippee!

However, there are other kinds of ratings. The most important of these is the Instrument Rating (IR), which allows you to fly under IFR (Instrument Flight Rules). An IR can be added to any pilot certificate, PRIVATE pilot or higher, for appropriate aircraft (you can't fly a hot air balloon IFR, or rather, if you can, you're a far better pilot than I).

There is only one IFR rating... there's none of this IMC/IR stuff like there is in the UK. IR ratings are per category/class, but once you have your first one (typically an IR add-on to a PP-ASEL), it's relatively easy to get them for additional aircraft types. The difference between a PP-AMEL checkride and an PP-AMEL with Multiengine-Instrument priviliges checkride ONCE YOU ALREADY HAVE A PP-ASEL is likely to be as simple as one approach and maybe a hold.

That said, the basic IR is tough - many consider it the toughest rating that the FAA gives. It's no weak-kneed UK IMC rating (which, franky, frightens me--it's good for perhaps emergency letdowns, but not for going to Switzerland, as I've seen some people effectively use it for). In the USA, there is no "gradiated" IR - either you have it or you don't. Either you are on an IFR flight plan so you can and will fly the same routes, procedures, and airspace as the airliners (aircraft performance and common sense notwithstanding), or you don't.

Other ratings include type ratings: these are necessary for bigger / faster airplanes (generally > 12,500 lbs). I won't go into those here, but suffice it to say that if you have CAA/EASA issued type ratings, you probably won't have too much trouble getting them transferred relatively painlessly to whatever FAA certificate you might get.



Endorsements are add-on priviliges that you get basically by the pen of an instructor. No checkride with an examiner required, though you will have to show the instructor that you can safely do what he's signing you off for, or you won't get it. Endorsements include:

  • Tailwheel - to fly airplanes with the little wheel or skid on the back. Because we know how silly it would be to just let a tricycle gear Cessna-only pilot loose on a Tiger Moth or a Piper Cub without any additional training.
  • Complex Airplane - a complex airplane is one that has flaps, a controllable pitch propeller, and retractable landing gear. Is a Diamond Katana such an aircraft? Let's see. Flaps? Check. Controllable Pitch Propeller? Check. Retractable Landing Gear? Bzzzt. It doesn't have all three, therefore no complex endorsement is required. Flying a Piper Arrow or Cessna 210 will require one, as will flying most twins.
  • High Performance - a high performance airplane is one whose powerplant generates more than 200HP (there are some normalizing assumptions to this, but that's the gist of it).
  • High Altitude - if you go above some altitude, you need an endorsement. Sorry - i don't know what the altitude is off the top of my head, but it may be 14500 or 18000 or something like that well up there. I suppose I could look this up.
  • Spin - this is a special endorsement primarily of interest to Flight Instructor candidates
  • Solo - basically an endorsement to a student pilot certificate to let a non-certified pilot solo under specified conditions.



Note how I have made no mention of a "night" rating. Night flying is a standard part of the FAA Private Pilot certificate for most aircraft types (read: airplane, helicopter). However, the FAA can issue restrictions on any certificate for a number of reasons - for example, one against night flight due to medical reasons.



The UK CAA / EASA System

The CAA/EASA (EASA was, practically speaking, formerly known as JAA and you may see it still referred to as such occasionally) system is a "dual track" system. Either you are in the "professional pilot" track or you are in the "private/recreational" pilot track.

In the professional track there are formalized schools with uniforms and classroom instruction and so forth.


Yes, but how and whether should I get an FAA pilot certificate?

If you want to fly an N-registered airplane in the USA, for all practical purposes you need an FAA certificate of some sort. If you want to fly an N-registered airplane in the UK, then while for all practical purposes you need an FAA certificate, there might not be anything in the UK regulations preventing you from legally flying such an aircraft in the UK on your UK license (please do check the UK regs on this--I am not 100% sure of this, but this seems to be the consensus amongst those with whom I have spoken). If you want to fly an N-registered aircraft from the UK to, say, Europe, then, you will have a difficult time of it and possibly be operating illegally if you do not have an FAA certificate. Things in this realm are not entirely clear-cut by regulation, and there are places where even if there is regulation on one side of the argument or another, it's not entirely clear which regulatory or lawmaking body has standing, precendence, or jurisdiction.in each situation. Do you want to be the one that gets it settled through your actions?

If you want to fly a G-registered aircraft in the USA, you can do so on your UK certificate. Finding a G-registered aircraft in the USA is essentially impossible. The exception to this tend to be "warm climate" flight schools in the southern and western US that lure Brits with promises of UK ratings at US prices. I don't want to make a blanket statement about such places, but I strongly, strongly, strongly encourage anybody who might be interested in such a place to do considerable research before choosing to invest their time and money in such a place. If possible, get MULTIPLE recommendations from past students for every place that you consider. To say that I've met people with negative experiences at such places would be an understatement, though I'm sure that legitimate, safe, and inexpensive places for CAA/EASA training exist in the US. Probably.

Now, ask yourself this question: "do I really need an FAA pilot certificate?" If the answer is "no", then really leave it at that. Having a pilot certificate from another country has some novelty value, but it's not clear that it has real value for many UK pilots.

If, on the other hand, you've heard about how great America is to fly in (it's true), and you think there's a real reason that you might want to get a US certificate, read on!


The Free-ish Way: "Restricted" Certificates aka "On the Basis of" Certificates

When I hear UK pilots talk about US certification, they tend to talk about "restricted" certificates. I've seldom come accross this term in official FAA terminology; I think it's better to think of these as "on the basis of" (OTBO, for the purposes of this document) certificates, as "on the basis of a foreign certificate or license" is the box that you need to tick on that ubiquitous FAA form 8710-1 ("Application for an Airman Certificate or Rating"). OTBO certificates are essentially free for holders of value UK PPLs and better. If "OTBO" confuses you, just think that "OTBO" = "restricted."

Here's the scoop on getting an "on the basis of" certificate:

Basically, you can get a US PP certificate. Even if you have an EASA ATPL, you can get at most a US PP Certificate. As far as anybody knows, this can include whatever ratings that you have under your "foreign" (read: UK) certificate.

If you have an EASA IR (NOT IMC), you can get an OTBO FAA IR added to your OTBO PP cert with a simple tick of a checkbox on Form 8710-1. For this OTBO IR to be valid, you must take the IR "add on rating" knowledge test within 24 months of getting your OTBO IR. Sound odd? It sure is. Unless you have SIGNIFICANT experience flying in US Airspace under IFR through some other means, flying IFR in the US on the basis of essentially your EASA paperwork is ASKING FOR TROUBLE. IFR in the USA, especially for small planes, is in many ways significantly different than it is in Europe. I am pretty confident that this stupid rule will be reversed once a few European pilots, pockets full of OTBO ratings, damage themselves with extreme prejudice. I'd like to see a mandatory conversion training experience: 5 hours for EASA CPL-IR or ATPL-IR holders, and 30 (!) hours for CAA/JPL PP-IMC holders MINIMUM before they can fly legally in the USA under IFR. (Don't think I'm being one sided here - I want the same for US Pilots in Europe as far as IFR is concerned).

One interesting thing about the FAA IR: even if your PP is "OTBO", you can get a "real" ("full") FAA IR on top of this. If you're in the UK (or in the US, while I'm there), I can even train you towards this! The FAA IR is a much better rating than the UK IMC rating, and it's good fun, too.


How to get an OTBO certificate

It used to be that you'd send some paperwork to a random (and I mean that quite literally--you'd just picked one that sounded nice) FSDO and a few weeks later a shiny new FAA OTBO certificate would come back to you. September 11th changed that.

Now, there is a far more rigorous and time-consuming verification process. In fact, it's such a pain, I'd like you to seriously consider whether a "full" FAA certificate might not be a better choice for you. But, I'll get to that later. This document contains the FAA's technical mumbojumbo on the verification process.

I was going to write a few paragraphs here telling what this means in plain English, but just now I found a website that does just that!


Verification of Foreign Pilot Licenses

By Ole Henriksen at www.PPLIR.com

Before issuing a certificate based on a foreign pilot license, the FAA needs to verify that the foreign license is authentic and valid. Prior to applying for the certificate, applicants must therefore send a verification form accompanied by a copy of their license, medical, ratings (if applicable) and a copy of a photo ID (driving license or passport) to the FAA Airmen Certification Branch in Oklahoma City. The FAA will then contact the Civil Aviation Authority of the issuing country to verify the license.

The required "Verification of Authenticity of Foreign License, Rating, and Medical Certification" form is available from registry.faa.gov/docs/verify61-75.pdf. It should be sent to:

Airmen Certification Branch,
PO Box 25082
Oklahoma City
OK 73125-0082

After verification, which should take 3-4 weeks, the Airmen Certification Branch sends the applicant a letter verifying the authenticity of his or her national license (plus a copy to the designated FSDO - see below). The applicant then has 6 months to take this letter, together with his or her license and other required paperwork, to that FSDO and get an FAA certificate issued. The applicant must present him or herself in person to an FAA Operations Inspector - this process cannot be done by post.

But there are a few caveats. One is that many national aviation authorities (the UK CAA being one) require either written authorization or a fee or both before issuing this confirmation to the FAA. You must therefore contact your local aviation authority to make any necessary arrangements before sending the form to the FAA because there is no feedback from the FAA if their request is being held up by your own aviation authority. It is probably a process which needs some hand holding by the applicant to make sure the paperwork doesn't get stuck somewhere.

The next problem is that on the verification form the applicant must designate the FSDO where the FAA certificate is to be issued. This is so that the FSDO in question will receive the required verification from the Airmen Certification Branch before the applicant turns up on their doorstep. So if you are going to, say, Vero Beach to do some training anyway, you would designate the Orlando FSDO. The list of FSDOs at www1.faa.gov/avr/afs/fsdo will let you locate the most convenient office. You should also be aware that many FSDOs these days only allow visitors with a prior appointment and many will also demand a photo ID before entry.

Which brings us to the final hurdle. There are three European International Field Offices ("IFOs" - not FSDOs) - in London, Frankfurt and Brussels. However, these offices no longer deal with operational matters, only with maintenance. But there is a way to get your FAA license issued without going to the States. You can ring the New York IFO (not the New York FSDO which only deals with US domestic matters) on +1 718 553 0986 and talk to an Operations Inspector. You can then arrange to meet a travelling FAA Ops Inspector on his or her next visit to the IFO nearest you (i.e. London, Frankfurt or Brussels). Note that the verification process described above must be in place before you make this arrangement, and you should designate the "New York IFO" as the issuing office. This is a potential Catch-22, of course. By designating the NY IFO, you lock yourself into that avenue before knowing when an Ops Inspector is next passing through a city near you. So it could be worth ringing them just to check their travel plans before you start the ball rolling.

The website that the above came from, www.pplir.com, is an invaluable resource for European pilots and people interested in General Aviation in europe and the world in general.


So your license depends on the travel plans of somebody at the FAA! Still want to get an "OTBO" certificate?

If you didn't answer "no" to the above, consider this:

  • Your FAA OTBO PP certificate will expire at the same time as your EASA certificate. Time to renew EASA? Therefore it's time to do the whole paperwork fandango again! (umm, in theory anyway - some people just don't do this and some people disagree that it needs to be done - that is to say, there is some confusion with regards to this.)
  • Also, if your EASA license number changes, your FAA OTBO PP becomes invalid. A FAA you go a-calling! Hope you can take a day off to go down to London (or is that Frankfurt?) to mee the FAA guy, whenever that might be!
  • Your FAA OTBO PP certificate is in effect subject to the MORE CONSERVATIVE of the union of applicable regulations. So, while in the USA: have no EASA night rating? No night for you! VFR distance from clouds and visibility requirements? In the UK, you're often restricted to "sight of ground." - in the US you therefore are too! In the UK, however, you may be allowed to go right up to clouds but not into them - the US cloud clearance requirements are more varied and conservative - you are therefore bound by the US rules, even though you've never been tested on them or maybe even heard of them!
  • Ok, you have an FAA OTBO PP. Congratulations! However, nobody will rent you an airplane without significant additional training, because you still really know nothing about US airspace, procedures, regulations, weather, and the like. Every US student pilot knows what a 45 degree entry to downwind is just like every UK student pilot knows what "deadside descending" means. Do you?

So, which leads us to a short interlude:

  • If you've heard that flying over New York City (San Fransisco, Grand Canyon, Florida Keys, you name it) is a nice thing to do while in the USA, it's probably not worth all the hassle to get ANY FAA certificate if all you want to do is < 10 hours of sightseeing. An instructor can be hired who will keep you safe, legal, and not-lost PLUS you won't have to waste time and money on aircraft check-outs and the like. Don't forget you have that option.


But there is also that other option: the FULL US PP certificate.

Downside: front-loaded cost and effort. Requires flight test ("checkride"). Also perhaps you need a BFR (Biannual Flight Review) with a regular instructor. Both of these can be done (refreshed) at any time - you don't always have to be current with these if you're not flying - your certificate remains current.

Upside: never expires, limitation free, recognized without hesitation at FBOs/aircraft rental places, puts you through your paces so that you are sure you are maximally safe and legal. Can use existing flight experience to meet pre-requirements. If you have the experience [CFR Part 61], you can get a FAA CP cert or even FAA ATP certificate without too much additional effort. No additional medical examination requirement if you have a medical examination and are certified with an equivalent UK/European license. See the chart below:

My UK Licenses My UK Medicals My FAA Certificates Do I need an FAA Medical?
UK PPL UK Medical for PPLs FAA PP No!
UK PPL + IMC UK Medical for PPLs/IMC FAA PP + IR Unknown! (does IR=IMC? does anybody have an FAA ruling on this?)
UK CPL UK Medical for CPLs FAA PP No!
UK PPL UK Medical for PPLs FAA PP + IR Yes! Because even though the FAA medical is the same, your UK medical was for you as a PPL only, not as a PPL+IMC. Don't blame the messenger on this one!
UK CPL+IR UK Medical for CPLs/IR FAA PP+IR or CP+IR No!
UK PPL UK Medical for PPL FAA Student Pilot No, but it might be worth getting an FAA Medical just to eliminate potential paperwork hassles.
UK ATPL UK Medical for ATPLs FAA ATP No!


I think the upsides are pretty signficant. It's not for everybody, but I think far too many people don't give it the consideration they should.





Key Differences Between the US and the UK

This list is clearly partial, but it should give you a good start...


Weather in the USA tends to be frontal. By this, I mean that it can be characterized by warm and cold fronts often hundreds of miles long whose general movement can be more or less predicted days in advance. As a result, weather forecasts have meaning and, all cynicism aside, are usually pretty accurate. You can safely say "it looks like we'll have good flying weather for the next few days" and actually mean it.

In the UK, weather tends to be, umm, random. Sure, there are fronts, but the frontal patterns tend to be far more complex. Throughout much of South England, the Midlands, and East Anglia, weather tends to be fast moving to the point where you will have rain, sun, low clouds, more rain, overcast, calm, strong wind, etc---all within a few hours. And, I don't mean this as an isolated occurence - it's a regular thing!

This leads to the very very real possibility of "VFR into IMC" by any pilot who attempts to fly VFR "American Style" in England. (This is why, despite everything else I've said, the UK IMC rating is a good idea for the average UK IMC pilot). There are plenty of stereotypes of English weather - most of them are true! I find it next to impossible to schedule flights with my students out of Cambridge (EGSC) for much of the year- we just agree "let's see how it's doing at 10, 12, 2, and 3, and we'll just go when we can."

UK Random Weather. Roll the dice several times per day.


Cross Country Flying

the USA is a wonderful place. In most of the country, you can pretty much decide where you want to go after you're already airborne. Not that you'd necessarily want to do this, but you could, if you wanted to. I'd be lying if I said I haven't done this before.

There's pretty much none of that in the UK. Flying from airport to airport involves "PPR" - Prior Permission Required. This means phoning up airports, telling them when they could expect you, and figuring out how you're going to pay them to land. The PPR system is non-centralized and non-standardized, leading to general overall systemic inefficiency.

Oh yes - those landing fees - they can be, well, quite a shock to the American used to the good life of few, if any landing fees. In an extreme case, but our local airport at Cambridge (EGSC) began charging light aircraft GBP 14.95 per landing. That's around $27 - and they would charge this for EACH TOUCH AND GO "in the circuit" - even to students based there! EGSC is no busier than an average US "Class D" airport.


Night Flying

Essentially, all US pilots are certified to fly at night. A great number of airports are equipped for night operations, and flying at night is pretty much a normal thing. Of course, there's more risk involved, but the rewards are many. Flying at night requires regular practice and so forth.

In the UK, a "night rating" is required to fly at night. This is an add-on to a basic PPL just like a tailwheel endorsement is added to a US PP certificate. This, coupled with the fact that few airports provide light inexpensively (EGSC Cambridge charges something like GBP 200 (!!!!!) to turn the lights on (actually you're paying for the emergency services, but it's all the same)) means that in effect few weekend UK pilots really fly much at night. A pity, that.

ATC and "RT"

The British refer to radio communications as "RT" (Radio Telephony), a phrase that we don't really use in the USA. UK and US RT has many differences, though a reasonably competent US pilot should be able to "fake it" pretty well after having perhaps read the RT booklet published by the EASA. For UK pilots, there are a number of US books about aviation communications, and I am working on a piece of softwar that will help pilots learn this in a more interactive way as well.

ATC quality tends to vary in the UK more than it does in the USA. While many of the UK controllers (especially in positively controlled airspace) are very professional and excellent, at many airports, the phrase "see and avoid" really is important, even in a radar environment. I can't tell you how many times I was "in the circuit" talking to a controller with radar who advised me to turn a base leg or whatever without mentioning the helicopter that was hovering at base at about my altitude or whatever. Maybe my experiences have been outliers, but I must say that I'm quite happy that the airplane I've been flying the most in the UK has a TCAD (Terminal Collision Avoidance Device) built-in. I've never really had such issues in the USA.



UK airspace is essentially divided into .. (unfinished)

While this section is incomplete, here are some really useful PDFs that you can use to learn about UK airspace:

Additionally, a few random notes about flying VFR in UK airspace:

  • In the USA, we tend to be fastidious, or, at least we know that we should be fastidious about flying with up-to-date charts. In the UK, this seems to be less of a concern. But, on balance, the chart-makers reciprocate--a typical "current" UK VFR chart will likely show many airports as open that have actually closed some time ago and otherwise incorrectly show a number of airports. Now, please understand that this is not entirely their fault - flying VFR in the South And east, you will quickly see that the wartime term "Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier" is no exaggeration, given the large number of fighter and other ex-airfields that dot the landscape.



There are relatively few VORs (VORTACs, VOR/DMEs) in the UK. I'm not sure of the exact number, but it might even be around 20. However, there are copious numbers of NDBs.

If you're like most american pilots, you have been trained that an NDB is an object of inaccuracy that should be relegated to the scrap heap of history along with A-N ranges and airplanes that look like this

This is especially true when said NDBs are near water, as water can interfere with NDB signals to produce errors of 30 degrees or even larger at times!

The British, who, legend has it, live on an island, never really got the message. They go on using NDBs happily. How do they get away with it? One, but engaging in that quintissential British pasttime, shared by everybody who has heard of RailTrack, which is by complaining about the decrepid state of the UK's infrastructure in general. But, more to the point, NDBs are still useful because they are often based on airfields and are used, in effect, as homiing beacons. While it's a stretch to say that UK pilots won't fly NDB radials for general navigation, the fact is that UK pilots tend to fly random NDB radials less for this sort of thing that US pilots have traditionally relied on VOR radials. If you bring your airplane over to the UK from the USA, you might want to install an NDB. The Cirrus SR22 I fly here in the UK doesn't have an NDB, despite the really fancy multiple moving map GPSs. HSI, and so forth. This becomes a pain, as the IAF (or IP) for many ILS approaches is an on-field NDB. In practice I approximate this with GPS coordinates, but this is never really satisfying.

In the USA, VORs are copious. Even in this age of GPS, this is quite nice. If you don't really have that much experience with VORs, consider practicing a bit before you come to the USA with a PC-based flight sim such as Microsoft Flight Simulator or with something like Tim's NavSim provided by dauntless-soft.com. Learn to fly the ABC 324 radial inbound to intercet the DEF 041 radial outbound and so on.




Altimeter Settings

In the USA, altimeter settings are given in inches of mercury - 29.92" ["altimeter twenty-niner, niner-two"] = standard sea level pressure. ATC routinely reads out the current altimeter setting, which is set by pilots in the Kollsman window of their altimter to see the true altitude (altitude above sea level). Above 18,000' (with very little exception), each pilot shall set his altimeter to a standard setting of 29.92. When a typical US pilot lands at an airport, his altimeter will indicate the elevation of the airport.

In the UK, altimeter settings are given in millibars or hectopascals (the two units are equivalent). 1013hp = standard sea level pressure. The UK is divided into a number of ASRs - altimeter setting regions. At any time, each ASR is assigned one altimeter setting. Pilots are expected to reset their altimeters when transitioning through ASR boundaries.

In the UK, altitudes are read as "QNH" or "QFE." While this is at first a bit confusing to USA pilots, it's a standard that all pilots should learn, as it is a worldwide standard and, as afar as these things go, not a bad one. Although "QNH" rubbed this yank's ears the wrong way (attention Brits! follow this link and count the number of "i"s in the word! You see, we Americans are right about some things!), I'd be happy if we started hearing "QNH 30.22" in the US.

"QNH" essentially is the same as the US altimeter setting. So, if ATC mentions that "QNH One Zero One Five Milibars" then they're essentially saying "altimeter twenty-niner, niner-two". If your airplane's Kollsman window doesn't indicate in hp/mbar, it's a good idea to keep a paper conversion table handy.

"QFE" is the altimeter setting used where field elevation is zero - ie, it results in AGL (above ground level) elevation being shown on the altimter. Oftentimes, training airplanes who are not leaving the local area and gliders use QFE.

Complicating things further in the UK is the notion of "transition altitudes." In the USA, we've already discussed that the transition altitude to where a standard reference setting is dialed in to the Kollsman window is 18000' nearly everywhere. In the UK, transition altitudes are much lower - generally between 3000' and 4500'. In theory, the transition altitude is simple: 3000'. In practice, figuring out where a proper UK transition altitude is appears to require a PhD at minimum. Check out this document from the CAA with the specifics (also contains a nice map of the ASRs). I bet that fewer than one UK PPL in three really understands the transition rules and follow them as required. The low transition altitudes coupled with the popular uncertainty about them coupled again with the varied and rapidly changing atmospheric conditions even wthin an ASR lead me to only one conclusion: it's a stupid system (many UK aircraft fly with two altimeters in part because of this system). Someday, somebody will lose their life because of this stupid system. I hope the powers that be have the foresight to simplify and reform it before this happens. Sorry about my harsh words - I've heard too many stories of close calls caused by altimeter confusion in the UK to make me believe that it's anything but a bad system (please - no emails saying that "the system is just fine - it's just that people don't follow it!" - to me that's the same as basically admitting that it's a bad system).

UK CAA Altimeter Setting Primer (PDF)


Terminology Differences

Airplane Aeroplane
(Traffic) Pattern Circuit
(Current) Altimeter (Setting) QNH
"Engine Out Emergency Practice" PFL (Practice forced landing)

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