Great Britain is a relatively small island! That’s what you soon discover as a pilot, especially if you live in the South. When you realise this you want to break out across the water. From the South coast you can be in France in 10 minutes. The Channel Islands are 50-70nm SW of the Isle of Wight. 50nm off the West coast lies Ireland and the Isle of Man.
Flying your aircraft abroad is no problem. The aircraft doesn’t care (or know) where it is, over water or in a foreign country. Most of the obstacles are purely administrative, and once you’ve cracked the paperwork there’s nothing more to it!
This article covers general operational procedures for flight to and from civilian (ie. non-military) aerodromes. It also assumes you fly an EASA certified aircraft with an EASA pilot's licence.
1. Basic Facts
|Part of the UK||Part of the EU||Part of the Common Travel Area||Part of the Schengen Area|
|Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales)||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Republic of Ireland||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Isle of Man||No||No||Yes||No|
You can fly to/from any aerodrome in the UK to/from an EU country. Typically that country will also have its own customs & immigration procedures so you would land/depart from an airport that has a customs & immigration presence. For example if you are planning on flying to a private strip in Northern France, flying to Deauville, Le-Touquet or Calais are popular first destinations before continuing to your destination. Similarly if you are planning on flying from this private airstrip in France back to the UK, you must stop at such airports. The current list of schengen area points of entry/exit can be found here. Note that there may be PNR/PPR requirements prior to arrival/departure not shown on this list. Any such requirement will be shown in the current airfield information in AIP AD 2, current airfield plate and any NOTAM update.
If you wish to fly to/from a non-EU country, you must use a UK Designated aerodrome that has a customs & immigration presence, or a UK aerodrome that has a Certitificate of Agreement where your destination/orgin aerodrome is in the list of aerodromes permitted. This is typically used for flights to countries like the Channel Islands and Switzerland. Simply phone the aerodrome operator to obtain that list. To find out if the aerodrome is Designated, see page 4 of the GAR Form Submission Instructions in Section 7 below.
2. Charts and Airspace
You'll need an up to date air chart to cover your route.
VFR ICAO Charts
The UK CAA/NATS Southern Chart covers the French coast from Calais to Cherbourg but if you go any further you will need to buy the appropriate chart/s. Study the foreign charts carefully because their markings could be very different from the CAA/NATS charts you are used to. There may also be differences in the maximum altitude of airspace that they cover. We suggest looking at the following publishers:
- France - 1:500,000 published by IGN, or 1:1,000,000 published by SIA as part of their "Documents VFR" booklet
- Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Denmark - 1:500,000 published by DFS
- Finland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland - 1:500,000 charts published by their national CAAs
- Italy - 1:500,000 published by Avioportolano
- Switzerland - 1:500,000 published by the Federal Office of Topography
Jeppesen and Aerad publish IFR charts across Europe. Jeppesen also publishes low-level routes on separate charts.
Most countries in Europe use the semicircular rule for cruising for both VFR and IFR flights.
Be aware of minimum heights above congested areas and VMC minima requirements which may be slightly different than the UK. More details can be found in the AIP or on your chart.
Besides the area around Paris, Schiphol, Rome, Milan and Madrid, most lower airspace is not Class A. It is therefore possible to obtain VFR clearance to enter controlled airspace subject to traffic.
ATC and Use of English
British pilots are lucky that while airborne they will not have to speak any of the languages of the countries they visit, unless they are visiting a smaller/private aerodrome where all calls are made in the national language. This will normally be marked on the chart or in the AIP.
Basic, Traffic, Deconfliction, and Procedural flight information services specific to the UK and does not exist abroad. Instead, Flight Information Service can provide traffic and deconfliction advice on an as-far-as-practicable basis. FIS may also be provided by Approach Control units enabling you to transit certain pieces of airspace more easily. Just check your chart for the FIS frequency for the area.
You’ll need plates for your destination aerodrome and alternates. You can download aerodrome information from the AIP of the country concerned. Please remember to download any published Visual Approach (if you're VFR) and Parking charts as well. This information is not always included in VFR Flight Guides nor are VFR Reporting points shown on all Charts. Do plan to arrive or depart via the appropriate Visual Approach route.
Note that most States only publish details for larger Aerodromes.
You should also contact the aerodrome to confirm opening hours, parking and fuel availability. If your first stop is at a customs/immigration aerodrome, your alternates should be the same, taking note of any PPR requirements here as well. At larger aerodromes with passenger carrying traffic, you may also need to make arrangements with a suitable FBO (such as a based flying club) and obtain confirmation in email or writing to avoid excessive handling charges from an executive-jet or airline handling agency. Details should be found in the AIP.
If you need fuel, always refuel immediately after landing to avoid delays to your departure. If staying for a known period, try to also pay all fees after landing for the same reason. Credit cards are becoming more widely accepted at most manned aerodromes. Although if you have enough cash with you for a refuel, this could save you a very long walk to a cashpoint in the event the card facility goes down.
Check what is needed to get back airside. Usually your passport AND either your pilot's licence or AOPA aircrew card will be sufficient. Sometimes a receipt of your landing fee payment is needed. Larger aerodromes in countries such as Spain will additionally require a paper copy of your Flight Plan which has been stamped/approved by the Tower.
Note that just like the UK, some countries will not publish smaller public-use aerodromes in their AIP. These aerodromes will normally not have customs/immigration facilities. Contact the aerodrome operator/owner or ATC and ask them to email you the plates.
4. Flight Plan
Next you will need to file a flight plan to cross any FIR boundary with a foreign country because it gives you ‘permission’ to enter that country’s airspace. It is also advisable to file a flight plan for any flight over water. You will need to file another flight plan for your return to the UK.
The filing of a flight plan is primarily for any interested ATC facility, search and rescue, and national security purpose. It does not constitute formal notification or request to land at any aerodrome or use of its services (e.g. customs, immigration, fuel).
Flight plans will be automatically activated when departing an aerodrome with ATC if they are aware that you on a flight where flight plan filing is mandatory. Similarly when you land at an aerodrome with ATC it will be automatically closed.
If the origination or destination aerodrome does not have ATC, you must activate (after takeoff) or close your flight plan (before landing) in the air using the appropriate FIS frequency or nearest ATC unit to prevent national security and/or search and rescue operations being initiated. FIS will often not be contactable over radio while your aircraft is on the ground - follow up via telephone if you were unable to reach an appropriate unit in the air.
5. Aircraft/Personal Paperwork
In many European countries, the following aircraft documents need to be carried on the flight:
- Airworthiness Certificate
- Airworthiness Review Certificate
- Certificate of Registration
- Aircraft Radio Licence
- Certificate of Release to Service
- Aircraft POH/FM or copy
- Weight and Balance schedule
- Noise certificate
- Aircraft Insurance certificate
- Copy of the Flight Plan
- ELT or PLB
- Certificate of VAT paid in the EU (Single Administrative Document C88)
- Copy of the procedures and signals for airborne interception (a useful reference is Safety Sense leaflet 11 or UK AIP ENR 1.12)
As well as the following personal documents:
- Crew licences
- Passports for everyone travelling
- Current Visa if required for any non-UK /EU passport holders
The IR-Restricted (formerly the IMC rating) is not valid outside the UK. You will need an Instrument Rating or other current EASA restricted IR rating allowing flight under IFR.
6. Aircraft Equipment
By law you must consider the survival equipment appropriate to the flight. For flight over cold UK waters this will involve carrying lifejackets at a minimum, ideally with a liferaft. More information is available from Safety Sense Leaflet 21.
In many European countries, your aircraft must be equipped with an installed Emergency Locator Beacon (ELT), OR you MUST carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) with you.
Also, Mode C transponders are required in many European countries, supplemented by Mode S for operating in and around some busier terminal areas.
The requirements for any particular country can usually be found in Section GEN 1.5 of their AIP. Most UK C-of-A aircraft will have met most, if not all, of such requirements.
7. UK/CTA Customs/Immigration Procedures
You may need to complete a GAR form and send it to the National Co-ordination Unit (NCU). The NCU is reponsible for forwarding the GAR form onto the appropriate Customs (HMRC), Immigration (UKBF), and Police departments.
The notification requirements for the GAR form are:
- Inbound from EU countries (excluding Republic of Ireland) – 4 hours prior to arrival
- To/From the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man – 12 hours prior to departure/arrival*
- To/From other non-EU countries – 24 hours prior to departure/arrival
*There may be variations to these requirements if the airports are designated by the Police. Details can be found on the GAR Form Submissions link above.
To submit the GAR form to the NCU, you can do so via the following methods:
- Online (preferred method): Click here
- Fax: 01708 862 521 (badly handwritten forms will be rejected)
Note 1: If anyone onboard the aircraft has a non-EU passport, you will need to consider their visa requirements as well.
Note 2: Submissions to the NCU does NOT replace the need to comply separately with any PPR or flight plan requirements.
Note 3: You will receive acknowledgement by email if you submit via the online method. Submissions via email or fax will receive NO ACKNOWLEDGEMENT of the GAR submission. If the pilot hears nothing to the contrary he simply continues with his intention knowing that he MAY be checked either before departure from or on arrival into the UK.
8. Foreign Customs/Immigration Procedures
The aerodrome abroad may have advance notification requirements for foreign customs & immigration. At the time of writing popular first destinations such as Le-Touquet and Calais in France require 2-hour advance notification, while Ostend and Deauville do not require advance notification. Check the AIP for a telephone number or email. Not paying attention to these procedures may put you and your passengers at risk of being detained until someone is available to process your passports.
The good news is that if both departure and destination aerodromes are within the Schengen Area, there would be no more customs & immigration formalities to follow until you leave the Schengen Area again: for instance to return to the UK. There is an exception to this rule - Switzerland. Despite being in the Schengen area, it is not part of the EU and outside the EU Customs Union. This means although there is freedom of movement of people, there isn't freedom of movement of goods. Therefore flight to/from Switzerland will still require going through customs airports.
It is advisable to carry your passport and pilot licence with you at all times. Do remember to file a flight plan if you are going to cross an international FIR boundary.
9. Weather and Daylight Hours
Weather abroad can be retrieved here.
Note that the UK, Channel Islands and IoM, Ireland and Portugal are on the same time zone (GMT or BST). Most EU countries are on Central European Time which is always 1 hour ahead of UK time. Eastern European Time (including Finland) is 2 hours ahead of UK time.
Other Useful Information
Fuel Duty Drawback
When you get back, you can apply to HM Revenue & Customs on Form HO60 to recover the UK excise duty on all the fuel in your tanks when you left your last UK departure point.
The completed and signed form together with the necessary fuel receipts should be sent by post to:
HMRC Mineral Oils Relief Centre
Benton Park View
NB: If you send your HO60 to the Dobson House address it will be returned to you and not forwarded to the new address above.
The duty recovery regulations can be found by following the relevant links below.
|Avtur Drawback Rules|
GA in Eastern Europe and Beyond
It is unclear at the time of writing whether there is much private GA activity in a number of countries in Eastern Europe and beyond, including: Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Belarus, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Maldova, and Russia (including Kaliningrad). Further formalities and procedures may have to be followed, including the ordering and delivery of AVGAS, purchasing paper copies of the AIP, application and purchase of various government permits, aircraft insurance endorsements, awareness of the nearest engineering and servicing facilities for your aircraft, and mandatory IFR flight, in order to fly here. In addition NAVAID, radar, or radio coverage at low altitudes may also be poorer and the distance between adjacent aerodromes is likely to be greater.
It is also unclear whether there is much private GA activity in countries south of the Mediterranean Sea.
We suggest you try contacting a based flying club at an aerodrome for more details.