Aircraft operators in Europe who conduct so-called “specialized operations” (aerial work, anything from banner towing to crop spraying to surveying power lines) could be in line for a shock in April if they don’t prepare for new legislation from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). On April 21, a large number of operators, from the smallest to the biggest, will need to be compliant with Part-SPO (for “specialized operations”).
For most operators this means declaring that they have taken certain steps to manage risk in their specialized operations. However, for commercial operators conducting “high-risk operations” compliance requires an additional formal authorization.
According to Joel Hencks, managing director of consultancy AeroEx.eu, who chaired the industry committee scrutinizing the legislation from the Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA) stage some years ago, the proposed rule was not originally meant to affect non-commercial operators. Rather, the intention was for commercial operators to have the advantages of an AOC-like certificate—such as free movement in the EU market, tax on fuel—without the overheads. However, the new rule has become another bureaucratic headache for the industry.
The original intent, to certify commercial SPO operators, replaced by an authorization for high-risk commercial specialized operations and cross-border approval by each National Aviation Authority (NAA) where the operations take place, led to a lack of industry input and awareness. In addition, Europe’s separate NAAs that are tasked with overseeing Part-SPO in operation “are still a little bit lost as to how to apply this provision,” Hencks told AIN. Specifically, each NAA has to decide how to define "high risk." Some EASA nations, such as Switzerland (not in the EU but still an EASA state), France, Austria and the UK, for example, have criteria and a list. But many of the others have not taken this step, according to Hencks.
This could mean that come April 21, operators would have to cease cross-border business (for example, a German company that has operations under contracts in Italy). Meanwhile, EASA is treating the legislation as completed and is just waiting for it to come into force. “So operators don’t know if they will still have that business after April 21,” said Hencks, who added, “All this is an absolute mess and there is no clear guidance.” He also warned that the lead time could be many months to have an application approved, even if the controlling NAA is ready to accept it. In addition, the usual issues over principal place of business also apply (as was the case with Part-NCC, the non-commercial operations rule).
Philippe Renz, of Swiss law firm Renz & Partners, said that during an EASA conference on Part-SPO in January, an EASA representative gave the clear impression that it thought such operations were marginal and therefore did not properly scrutinize the changes that appeared by the time the formal EASA Opinion was published. “It’s too late to change anything before the deadline,” said Renz.
So what do operators need to do? “First,” said Hencks, “they need to identify whether or not high risk applies to them. This could have a major impact, especially for larger operators with long-term contracts, such as power-line inspections.”
“Second, they need to see if cross-border applies, and as with NCC this is a question of [knowing your] principal place of business.” In each case, their first point of call will need to be their NAA, although in most cases “they won’t have the answers and will have to go to EASA.”
He said that there are lots of legal questions to be dealt with, “once you get down into the detail,” so operators should not delay in preparing. “Most at EASA and the NAAs are not aware of the details either, and many countries haven’t regulated aerial work at all before; they have just regulated operators with AOCs, so most don’t know even that they will be regulated soon."