The EASA (actually EU) regulations are binding law in all EU countries. They are also, by virtue of treaties, binding in some other countries, e.g. Norway and Switzerland. So they are actually important for our everyday flying. Most pilots get their knowledge of rules and regulations from ground school textbooks, but in my opinion every pilot should also have read the actual regulations at least once.
To find a regulation, first know what you’re looking for. The most relevant regulations for private pilots/owners concern:
- Pilot licensing rules (“part-FCL”)
- Traffic rules (“SERA”)
- Operational rules (“part-NCO”)
- Aircraft maintenance rules (“part-ML” – or “part-M” if your MTOM is more than 2730 kg)
The distinction between traffic rules and operational rules can be hard to understand and is indeed a bit fuzzy. Very roughly, operational rules concern the safety of the aircraft itself and those on board the aircraft while traffic rules concern the safety of aircraft in relation to other aircraft and people on the ground. E.g. rules about minimum heights and air traffic control are traffic rules, while rules about aircraft instruments and the use of life vests are operational rules.
Secondly, you should have a basic understanding of the structure of EASA regulations.
Each regulation consists of a number of “articles” (the “cover regulation”) followed by “annexes”. The articles cover things like applicability of the rules, entry into force, derogations, definitions etc. and can usually be skipped. The actual rules are in the annexes.
Associated with the regulations are separate “AMC/GM” documents (Acceptable Means of Compliance / Guidance Material). These are not themselves law but clarify the regulations and give advice on how to comply with them. (They are sometimes called “soft law”.) You generally have to follow the AMCs but not the GMs.
When a regulation is changed, it is usually not reissued. Instead a change regulation is issued. This can make it a pain to read regulations with several changes as you must cross-reference several documents as you read.
Fortunately, EASA publishes “consolidated versions” of some regulations where all changes have been incorporated. There are also “Easy Access” versions which consolidate both the original regulation, any changes and the AMC/GM into a single document. The Easy Access versions are also the only ones to include a table of contents.
If there is an Easy Access version, use it! Otherwise use consolidated versions, if available. Note, however, that these versions are not guaranteed to include the very latest changes.
Now how to actually find the regulations:
Go to the EASA web page (www.easa.europa.eu). Click on “Regulations”.
Click on the appropriate links to get to the relevant pages: “Continuing Airworthiness” for part-ML (or part-M), “Aircrew” for part-FCL, “Air Operations” for part-NCO and “SERA – Standardised European Rules of the Air” for SERA.
On the particular regulation page, you’ll find a number of headlines:
- “Consolidated version” with links to consolidated and Easy Access versions (if any).
- “Regulations” with links to the original regulation and any change regulations.
- “Acceptable Means of Compliance and Guidance Material” with links to the AMC/GM (possibly divided into subgroups).
Regulations and (usually) consolidated versions are available in all EU languages. You get to choose which language version you want. Easy Access versions and AMC/GM are only available in English.
Some of the regulations are very large (1000+ pages) because they include rules for both private and commercial operations, both aircraft and helicopters in the same document. The table of contents in the Easy Access versions come in handy!
The readability of the rules vary. Generally more recent rules seem to be more readable then older ones. Part-ML is bad but rather short. Part-FCL is overwhelming until you know where to look, while SERA and part-NCO are actually quite ok.