An Air Operator Certificate (AOC) is a certificate that allows an operator to perform specific operations of commercial air transport. Any airline in Europe that wishes to operate must have the country’s approval through an Air Operator Certificate.
The Air Operator Certificate certifies that the operator has the professional ability and the necessary organization to guarantee the safety conditions needed for aircraft operations in the aeronautical activities described in the certificate.
The process that goes from the initial idea of creating an airline, until the approvals needed to do so are achieved, can be complicated if you are not well informed, don’t have the knowledge or the means to do it.
In an organization, many resources are destined to get the certificate. But even when lots of money are destined for this purpose the final results can turn out not to be the expected ones, due to certain obstacles that could not have been dealt with properly. In this document, we want to show you the steps that should be followed to obtain an AOC in the EASA regulatory framework.
The process for obtaining an AOC in the EASA regulatory framework is regulated by each country in Europe under the requirements of the European regulation (EASA: European Aviation Safety Agency). These national procedures, from the 32 countries that are member of EASA, are quite different from one another, but at the same time every country is part of an international organism above the European one, the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) so they must follow their directions, specifically the 8335 document, that establishes how the certification process of an Air Operator should be done. Therefore, each country has its own guide for the future Air Operators in their country, based on the European requirements (EASA) and on the ICAO document 8335.
An AOC specifies the:
- Name and location (principal place of business) of the operator.
- Date of issue and period of validity.
- Description of the type of operations authorized.
- Types of airplanes authorized for use.
- Registration markings of the authorized airplanes.
- Authorized areas of operation
- Special limitations.
- Special authorizations/approvals e.g.: CAT II / CAT III, MNPS, ETOPS, RNAV, RVSM
In general terms, how the process for obtaining an AOC in EASA is organized?
Anyone who wants to set up an air operator must know that the most important thing is to have two fundamental pillars very clear:
1. The commercial/economic issue: It must be a sustainable business, it must have a viability plan and a clear business idea.
2. Productive/Organizational: All the productive structure must be organized, like the operator certifications, etc, so the service can be offered.
Once the business model is set up, you must have a technical team, that can be internal or external (they could be consultants or positions inside the company that would be named once the AOC is achieved) and that will help you to go through the certification process. Not having a team of people with a suitable technical and management profile for the obtention of an AOC in EASA could end up meaning a significant cost overrun, or even lead to failure as it means an underestimation of the difficulty of the process, so when the application process starts there are many difficulties and delays in the approval, that end up generating important expenses and even the unfeasibility of the business.
There are several cases where companies have had their aircrafts stopped for months in the platforms, and they have gone to bankruptcy even before starting the business. That is why it is so important to plan the organization of the whole production and management structure of the operator perfectly.
It must be very clear when each one of the steps should be made, from the planning of the interview.
Common requirements for obtaining an AOC:
- Sufficient personnel with the required experience for the type of operations requested.
- Airworthy aircraft, suitable for the type of operations requested.
- Acceptable systems for the training of crew and the operation of the aircraft (Operations Manual).
- A quality system to ensure that all applicable regulations are followed.
- The appointment of key accountable staff, who are responsible for specific safety-critical functions such as training, maintenance, and operations:
- Carriers Liability Insurance (for Airlines).
- Operators are to have sufficient insurance to cover the injury or death of any passenger carried.
- Proof that the operator has sufficient finances to fund the operation.
- The operator has sufficient ground infrastructure, or arrangements for the supply of sufficient infrastructure, to support its operations into the aerodromes requested.
The certificate is held by a legal person who resides in the country or region of application (for EASA).
Once the business model and productive organization planning is clear, the formal process of applying for an AOC has 5 stages, according to ICAO:
- Pre-certification phase
- Formal application phase
- Document evaluation phase
- Demonstration and inspection phase
- Final certification phase
Before starting the formal process of applying for an AOC, when you already have a business plan, what the ICAO and the countries that issue the AOC recommend is an initial meeting with the authority. The authority has always to be seen as a travel companion in the certification; this means that it cannot be an independent process that shows up at the end of the certification process. Our recommendation is that you agree with the authorities on how the process is going to be (this must be done in all the phases).
It is when the necessary forms and documents for the AOC are completed. Here we include not only the official forms but also an operation and maintenance manuals as well as the manuals associated with the quality operations or with the conformity control that should be handed. In short, all the documents that define the procedures for the future operator.
It is important to highlight that these documents should not be standard ones, but you should present a documentation according to the reality of the future operator, and it should be as realistic as possible with the operation that is going to take place. When the formal process of application is submitted, not only the documentation is presented, but also the kind of airplane you are going to fly, the plane model, the facilities, the IT equipment, and the staff.
In this phase, the authority can find circumstances that should be solved. At this moment all the organization is already set up; the facilities are already working, the staff is hired: The Responsible of flight operations, Responsible for ground operations, etc. All of them should be operating, because they are the ones that have developed the documentation, and they are the ones that should solve the possible discrepancies that could rise over the document evaluation.
Once everything is correct and the document evaluation is passed, there is going to be a physical inspection where the bases are going to be evaluated, there could maybe be a test flight, etc. Depending on the authority and type of operations, a bigger or smaller demonstration will be done.
Once the levels of security are guaranteed to be the correct ones and that there is a compliance of the requirements demanded by the country, the authority issues the certificate.
Usually, this process lasts between 6 and 9 months, from the moment when the formal application until the operations start.
An important point that should be highlighted is the profile of the people that are going to be in the positions of decision and management of the operator. Unlike other industries, the aeronautical sector is highly regulated. You must have the so-called post holders, that should be approved by the authority for positions where their functions are defined by the regulation; the director responsible must comply with the requirements of economic power, knowledge, regulations, etc. The flight operation’s manager must have at least five years in management positions inside the industry, among other regulated requirements.
The main EASA regulations associated with the certification of an air operator are as follows:
ORO.GEN Section 1:
This section deals, in general terms, with issues related to the AOC air operators, its functions and duties.
This annex has the necessary requirements for a company to be certified as an AOC air operator.
This section of the regulation is focused on the definitions of the posts that are needed to obtain the AOC.
Extraction from the ORO.AOC.135
In accordance with ORO.GEN.210(b), the operator shall nominate persons responsible for the management and supervision of the following areas:
- Flight operations.
- Crew training.
- Ground operations.
- Continuing airworthiness in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 2042/2003.
This section of the regulation is focused on the necessary facilities, and its characteristics to obtain the AOC.
A good implication, clear objectives and having a professional team that lead the process to obtain an AOC in an EASA regulatory framework will lead you achieve positive results in the established periods.
The process to obtain an AOC in EASA is easier if it is automatized and is handled with tools like the SICOMO software. This software is designed to answer the requirements demanded by the EASA and the ICAO standards to achieve excellent results at an organizational and productive level.
If you want to know more about How to certify an Air’s Operator Certificate (AOC) in EASA and what tools are available to successfully manage the audits, we invite you to subscribe to the EASA Quality Compliance Newsletter.