Information and Guidance
Regulations (EU) 748/2012, incorporating Part 21 and (EC) 2042/2003, incorporating Part M, have introduced a regulatory system for the control and oversight of the continuing airworthiness of all aircraft on the UK Register subject to these Regulations. Copies of these Regulations are available at the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) website. These Regulations are usually referred to as the EASA Regulations and aircraft subject to these Regulations are referred to as EASA aircraft. The Check Flight Schedules and the Check Flight Handbook, available on this page of the website, provide reference documents and guidance on the safe conduct of aircraft evaluation flights, whether required by EASA or CAA or elected by pilot-owner, operator, engineer, maintenance or continuing airworthiness management organisations as part of a continuing airworthiness programme.
Flight testing of aircraft is a required means of establishing compliance with certification requirements for new aircraft and changes to aircraft. Other flight testing, referred to as check flights or in-flight surveys, can be carried out periodically on in-service aircraft as one of the processes to ensure that an aircraft continues to comply with the applicable airworthiness requirements. Additionally, maintenance check flights may be carried out following a maintenance activity on an aircraft to provide reassurance of handling characteristics, performance or to establish the correct functioning of a system that cannot be fully established during ground testing.
The EASA Regulations introduced a non-expiring Certificate of Airworthiness (CofA), which is underpinned by a prescriptive continuing airworthiness management system. Owners or operators of aircraft are responsible for ensuring the continuing airworthiness of their aircraft, and they (or their contracted organisations) must analyse the airworthiness status of the aircraft, including reported flight defects and performance issues. In fact this is nothing more than owners or operators at any level should be doing already.
Owners or operators who themselves establish a need to carry out periodic check flights as part of their own airworthiness assurance process should ensure that their check flight schedules and procedures* are developed in accordance with current best practices. They may achieve this by consulting with the aircraft manufacturer or with CAA Flight Test Section for advice on content and safety procedures.
* Please see the advice on the Use of Schedules regarding the need for caution on the part of owners, operators and organisations when using Check Flight Schedules currently or formerly published by UK CAA for elective check flights.
Aircraft when engaged in military, customs, police or similar services are considered to be “State Aircraft” and as such are not subject to EASA Regulations. However, those State Aircraft that are of a type issued with an EASA type certificate can be treated as EASA aircraft.
In the following paragraphs the term “flight testing” will be used when discussing pre-type certification actions; “check flight” will refer to required or elective verification activities that take place post type certification, such as for the issue of a CofA, or post maintenance; “in-flight surveys” are another form of check flight. The remainder of this page deals only, in the main, with check flights.
Check Flights for Continuing Airworthiness Management
The purpose of airworthiness check flights is to ensure that the aircraft’s flight characteristics and its functioning in flight do not differ significantly from the normal characteristics for the type and to check the flight performance against the appropriate sections of the flight manual. These flights should only be conducted in accordance with schedules that have been approved by either the CAA or the manufacturer. The principles and safety considerations that follow are applicable for both required and elective check flights for continuing airworthiness management. These check flights do not include maintenance check flights for specific items.
Schedules - objectives and content
Extensive CAA experience has shown that check flights flown in accordance with appropriate schedules will establish that:
(a) the handling characteristics are satisfactory and typical of the type;
(b) the climb performance equals or exceeds the scheduled data;
Note: Data is necessary in order to assess any future deterioration of performance in service.
(c) the aircraft and its equipment function satisfactorily and the aircraft continues to comply with its type design standard.
To be appropriate, the schedules should cover the following:
(a) Handling tests, including the effectiveness of primary controls and trimmers, with specific direction (see Note) to evaluate the characteristics during the following phases of flight:
4. Flight at maximum speed;
5. Flight at minimum speed;
7. Landing; and
8. Hover manoeuvres for helicopters.
Note: If not directed to evaluate characteristics, many pilots would compensate and adapt to deficient characteristics.
(b) Performance tests:
1. Simple, free air pressure rate-of-climb measurements under known and predicted configurations and conditions; and
2. Measurement of low speed warnings and, if applicable, stall speeds.
(c) Tests to check functioning of the aircraft equipment in flight and safe, recoverable functioning of back-up systems e.g. emergency gear lowering, use of alternate braking systems. Note that controls, systems and equipment, which are used regularly, may be considered, for the purpose of the schedule, to have been checked on the basis of normal usage.
Schedules for required check flights for non-EASA aircraft, which meet the above criteria, will be created and maintained by CAA. Should an operator wish to develop an alternative schedule for required check flights, this may be done provided that it incorporates all elements of the CAA schedule and, in particular, the Check Flight Certificate. Examples of certificates may be found in the Check Flight Handbook* . Any alternative schedule, when used for required check flights should have been reviewed and accepted by the CAA Flight Test Section; in seeking any such agreement, the operator should include details of arrangements for periodic review of their schedules.
For certain categories of aeroplanes below 5700kg MAUW, there are generic schedules, which can be used for a range of aeroplane types. These can be obtained from CAA Flight Test Section or from this website.
Check Flight Results
After each check flight, the pilot who conducted the flight should complete the post-flight certificate, which lists all the defects found during the flight. This, together with the completed Schedule, comprises the Check Flight Report. Each defect should be classified according to its impact on safety, and the means of disposal of defects is described in the Check Flight Handbook.
Pilots Conducting Check Flights
To ensure that appropriate levels of safety are maintained, check flights should be conducted by pilots who have satisfactory experience with the appropriate check flight schedule and have received adequate familiarisation of check flight techniques and safety precautions. For all check flights, it is essential that the pilot concerned fully understands the significance and intent of the tests, as well as the techniques used to minimise the risk associated with some tests. For check flights requiring the submission of a report to the CAA, Flight Test Section must be consulted in advance regarding the eligibility of pilots intending to conduct check flights.
Where applicable, pilot acceptance criteria and procedures for conducting check flights should be included in the continuing airworthiness management exposition. Though it is not feasible to lay down absolute experience and ability requirements for pilots, guidelines are provided in the Check Flight Handbook.
Occasions for the Conduct of Check Flights
Certificate of Airworthiness Issue
As part of a production assurance programme, a flight test for an individual aircraft to determine conformity with the type certification standard will have been carried out by the manufacturer prior to the issue of their statement of conformity. No check flight is subsequently required for CofA issue.
Used aircraft from an EU Member State (or a State having a membership agreement with EASA)
The EASA Regulations are legally binding in each Member State and facilitate equal recognition of certificates issued in any Member State. When an aircraft with a valid CofA issued by an EU Member State (or a State having a membership agreement with EASA), including, where applicable, a valid associated Airworthiness Review Certificate transfers to the UK Register, no check flight by the CAA is required for CofA issue.
Used aircraft from a non-EU Member State, not having a membership agreement with EASA
The CAA has decided that it will no longer routinely be involved in check flights of EASA aircraft being imported from non-EU Countries (currently referred to as SHINE (Second Hand Imported aircraft from a Non EU state)). EASA Part M, M.A.904 and AMC refers to the airworthiness review that is required to be carried out and includes a check flight report as part of the documentation needed to support the airworthiness review. The responsibility for satisfying M.A.904 rests with the Continuing Airworthiness Maintenance Organisation (CAMO) or with the certifying staff of an ELA1 aircraft who is approved by the CAA to carry out airworthiness reviews and to make recommendations to the CAA. These organisations and individuals will therefore need to arrange for the check flight to be carried out
Note: A number of owner or operators lease out aircraft at seasonal periods to reduce capacity. In certain cases the aircraft are transferred from the UK register to the register of a non-EU State, not having a membership agreement with EASA. In these cases when the aircraft return to the UK register within 12 months and the owner or operator has arrangements in place to monitor the continuing airworthiness arrangements with the lessee a check flight will not normally be required on return.
Export from UK to a third country
There is no need for an Export CofA in respect of aircraft that transfer registration to another EU Member State (or a State having a membership agreement with EASA). CAA will continue to accept applications for the issue of an Export CofA for aircraft to be exported to non-EU Member States, not having a membership agreement with EASA. For the present, the general provisions of BCAR will apply with the exception that no check flight will be required unless specified by the importing State.
Certificate of Airworthiness Revalidation
A Certificate of Airworthiness will become invalid if an aircraft has not been maintained in an airworthy condition. Aircraft that have been in storage, or out of service, for a prolonged period of time will not have been subject to the periodic continuing airworthiness requirements and will need their airworthiness status to be re-established prior to entry into service. Where necessary, return to service check flights should form part of the Airworthiness Review Certificate recommendation procedures to provide an additional assurance of serviceability.
Maintenance Check Flights
The EASA Regulations in M.A.301 (8) identify maintenance check flights as part of the continuing airworthiness tasks necessary to ensure the serviceability of operational and emergency equipment. For some maintenance tasks, the manufacturer prescribes in the aircraft's Maintenance Manual the need for check flights to be carried out. For other tasks involving, for example, work carried out on a system or component the correct functioning of which is affected by flight dynamics, air loads, airflows, or low temperatures and pressures, a maintenance check flight can be necessary for final verification.
Certificate of Airworthiness or Permit to Fly Issue
British Civil Airworthiness Requirements continue to be applicable to non-EASA aircraft. For a CofA or Permit to Fly to be issued to a non-EASA aircraft it is necessary to determine that the individual aircraft conforms to its type certification standard and is airworthy. A check flight is required to be completed satisfactorily prior to the initial issue of the CofA or Permit to Fly. The CAA's Regional Office assigned with the task of issuing the certificate or permit will notify the applicant by letter of the need for the check flight and will ask the applicant to contact the CAA Flight Test Section to agree the particular check flight requirements for their aircraft. The CofA or Permit to Fly will not be issued until the check flight has been completed and the results dealt with satisfactorily. The check flight must be conducted in accordance with an agreed Check Flight Schedule and for new UK-constructed aircraft be conducted under the supervision of the aircraft Type Design Organisation. For new and used, imported or re-imported aircraft the CAA Flight Test Section may notify the applicant that the check flight can be devolved to the applicant, importing agent or operator. However, the CAA retains overall responsibility for the issue of the appropriate certificate and will only devolve the conduct of the check flight, when the aircraft type and origin are well known to the CAA, and the pilot has been associated previously with CAA check flights on aircraft of the same, or closely similar, type.
Certificate of Airworthiness or Permit to Fly Renewal
It is no longer required for a check flight to be conducted for the renewal of an Expiring Certificate of Airworthiness, a National Airworthiness Review Certificate or Certificate of Validity. The responsibility of deciding when a check flight is required, as part of the continuing airworthiness oversight of the aircraft, falls upon the aircraft owner-pilot, maintaineror continuing airworthiness management organisation (as applicable). Guidance material to assist in the decision making process can be found below: