The choice of NPPL and LAPL
One of the potential upsides of the transition to EASA pilot licensing is the new LAPL or Light Aircraft Pilot Licence.
A LAPL (Light Aircraft Pilot Licence) confers most of the privileges of a full PPL (Private Pilot Licence), but is less costly and slightly easier to obtain (30 vs 45 flight training hours required). The medical requirements are less restrictive, so that many former PPL pilots have “downgraded” to a LAPL and retained their right to fly. The introduction of Personal Medical Declarations for EASA (now called Part 21) aircraft in 2018 made that downgrade unnecessary for PPLs not wanting to fly abroad and happy being restricted to the LAPL privileges listed below.
It’s remarkably similar to the UK’s NPPL (National Private Pilot Licence) although since Jan 2021 cannot be used abroad. Newly qualified pilots require a further 10 hours solo experience before being allowed to carry passengers.
There are different variants of this licence for each of aeroplanes, helicopters, sailplanes (gliders) and balloons.
The UK NPPL will continue alongside the LAPL for the foreseeable future. Whether existing NPPL licence holders need to convert to a LAPL depends on what aircraft they fly and where they want to fly to.
Broadly speaking, Permit Aircraft pilots can happily continue flying with their NPPL as now. Pilots with NPPLs issued before 7 April 2018 who want to fly a Part 21 aircraft (see below) can still convert this to a LAPL licence as a paperwork exercise. Any NPPL licences issued after April 2018 can’t be converted and will require the pilot to take the full LAPL or PPL course and skill test. It is hoped this rule will be relaxed in the near future.
A new LAPL licence doesn’t expire, is valid for both Part 21 and Permit aircraft, provides similar privileges, similar medical requirements and has a few extras.
These notes below apply to pre-April 2018 NPPL(SSEA) holders who can easily convert and to any new student pilot who may want to train for one.
Some important terminology
Part 21 Aircraft has replaced the term EASA Aircraft now that we have left EASA.
Part 21 aircraft vs non-Part 21 aircraft: Most common aeroplane trainers are classified as Part 21, including Piper PA28, Cessna 152/172, Grumman AA5, Socata etc. Non-Part 21 aircraft include so-called Permit or Annex I such as amateur-built and microlights. You can verify which category any UK aircraft is registered to by looking up the aircraft registration on the G-INFO database.
SEP vs SSEA: Single Engine Piston vs Simple Single Engine Aircraft. These are pretty much the same, it’s just that SEP is used with full PPL licences, whereas SSEA is used with NPPL. There are limits to the Simple Single Engine class, which is defined as up to 2,000kg MTOW (Max Take-off Weight) and excludes microlights and self-launching motor gliders.
What does a LAPL licence permit?
- Fly a single engine aeroplane VFR with MTOW (Max TakeOff Weight) up to 2,000kg with no more than 4 people on board. With suitable differences training, this includes a variety of landing gear types (fixed, tailwheel, floats or skis) and/or variable pitch propellers. In theory, the aircraft could have more than 4 seats (such as a Piper PA32 Cherokee Six), but only 4 (including the pilot) can be occupied.
- Fly SEP (Single Engine Piston) or TMG (Touring Motor Glider) aircraft. A pilot would typically qualify in one class and require additional differences training and a further skill test to qualify in the other.
- Fly anywhere in UK, Channel Islands and Isle-of-Man. UK LAPLs are no longer valid in EASA countries.
- Carry passengers, including cost sharing of direct costs but not for profit, provided they have made 3 take-offs and landings within the last 90 days. The cost sharing doesn’t need to be split equally (e.g. pilot might contribute 10% while 3 passengers contribute 30% each).
- Train and qualify for additional ratings:
- Night, permitting Night VFR. If passengers are taken, then at least one of the three recent take-off and landings must have been at night.
- Aerobatic. The new EASA Aerobatic Rating comes into force in June 2018.
- Sailplane (i.e. glider) towing
- Banner towing
- Mountain. This new EASA Mountain Rating comes into force in June 2018.
- Fly a non-EASA aircraft (e.g. Annex II) in the UK. Hopefully this will be extended to other countries too, but this needs to be approved by each country’s CAA and that hasn’t happened yet.
- Fly without paying or receiving payment within the confines and oversight of a UK flying club, school or ATO (on the basis that the organisation operates the aircraft, doesn’t disperse profits outside the club and these are “marginal” activities rather than the majority of flights) one of the following types of flight
- “Introductory Flights” for potential new members
- Sailplane (ie Glider) towing (requires additional Sailplane towing rating)
- Parachute dropping
- Aerobatics (requires additional Aerobatics rating), including flight displays
What can’t a LAPL pilot do?
- Fly abroad. It is a sub-ICAO licence. UK LAPLs are not recognised elsewhere, even in Europe.
- Fly in cloud (IMC) or under IFR
- Fly a larger aircraft, heavier than 2000kg
- Fly a multi-engined aircraft
- Carry more than 3 passengers (4 total onboard)
- Fly with a current pilot as passenger when out of 90 day passenger currency (This is permitted for NPPL holders but not LAPL).
One of the main reasons that some PPL pilots choose the NPPL was because they could not meet the stricter medical requirements of the PPL. Another factor is the higher cost of a full PPL medical, which must be done by a registered Aircraft Medical Examiner (AME).
In 2016, the UK CAA replaced NPPL medical declarations that required a visit to a medical practitioner with a new self-declaration scheme which would apply to both NPPL. Existing pilots have no need to visit your GP or AME unless you suffer from one of the listed conditions. This is a considerable relaxation, and based on historic data that virtually no accidents have been caused by medical problems. The reality is that pilots are responsible enough to ground themselves if they know they are unfit to fly. Thousands of UK pilots have signed up to this scheme.
The LAPL requires a LAPL medical certificate, which can in theory be issued by your local GP. In most cases, pilots visit an AME but find it a bit quicker, simpler and lower cost than for a full Class 2 PPL medical. Medical checks are less frequent than for full Class 2 PPLs, for example no regular ECG tests (the ones where they wire you up with lots of electrical probes). CAA guidance can be found here.
In April 2018, the UK CAA extended the self-declaration scheme to cover FCL licence holders. Those who satisfy the requirements can fly with LAPL privileges in the UK only. Self-declared LAPL medicals (ie from the your local GP) are no longer available although existing ones remain valid until expiry.
In both cases (LAPL medical or self-declared), the medical requirements are very similar, lower than those for the full EASA PPL and comparable to those for professional HGV truck drivers.
It’s important not to confuse the medical self-declaration with a medical certificate (for a LAPL). These are different documents. A LAPL Medical certificate can be used with an NPPL licence.
The main reason I would expect pilots to seek a LAPL medical rather than Personal Medical Declaration is for student training – you can’t fly solo as a student without at least a LAPL medical certificate.
A full Class 1 or 2 PPL medical certificate can also be used to support a LAPL licence.
A LAPL medical is valid with a PPL licence as long as the SEP rating is valid. Surprisingly, this wasn’t always the case but become possible with regulatory updates during 2020.
Confused as to which combinations are permitted? This handy LAA table provides the answers.
Who issues these licences?
All are issued directly by the CAA. These can now be applied for entirely online and there is no need to send off your logbook. The process involves some additional checks (eg that you aren’t a terrorist or wanted criminal etc.) and takes a few days longer than just adding a rating.
Part of the NPPL licence issue process is handled by the LAA (Light Aircraft Association), who check each application, query any discrepancies, and forward recommendations to issue NPPL licences to the CAA. The NPPL website is regularly updated (usually daily) to show receipt of, and progress for, each NPPL licence application.
Pre-April 2018 NPPL holders don’t need to take any further flight training or pass any theory exams to convert their licence to a LAPL – it’s purely a paperwork exercise. You just need to pass a LAPL Medical examination (obtain a LAPL Medical Certificate) or hold a personal medical declaration and apply to the CAA.
You can apply online via the CAA website to convert your NPPL licence into an EASA LAPL. Alternatively, you can print out, fill in and send off the forms by post.
• SRG1104: The LAPL licence application form, which can also be used for any EASA licence. It includes a section to complete payment details.
• Just to be sure the CAA know you can speak English, I’d recommend including form SRG 1199 signed by a friendly flight examiner. EASA require English Language proficiency and natives should expect to be assessed at maximum Level 6 with minimum fuss.
Meanwhile the current NPPL training and licensing scheme also remains in force. After June 2018 it won’t be valid for (and can’t be conducted on) EASA aircraft. (Deferred from original deadline of 2015).
I would recommend that anyone with an NPPL(SSEA) licence issued before April 2018 who ever plans to fly EASA aircraft seriously and urgently consider upgrading to the LAPL licence. This will be a one-off cost for your licence application and you won’t need to speak with or fly with an examiner or have your LAPL licence revalidated bi-annually to keep current.
Who can provide training for LAPLs?
Any flying school or club that can train towards a PPL can now also train for the LAPL.
Initially, only ATOs (Approved Training Organisations – note the big capital letters) had been allowed to train directly for the LAPL. Their LAPL training course must itself also be approved by the national CAA. In October 2014, EASA announced it had decided to relax this requirement and allow any flying school already instructing PPLs to teach for the LAPL too. The UK CAA confirmed this took effect in the UK from 8 April 2015.
Training can be conducted by qualified flight instructors (FI). FI’s don’t need to have passed the CPL (Commercial Pilot Licence) theory exams to train LAPL pilots and be paid for it – whereas they do to teach for the PPL.
Most private pilot (PPL and NPPL) training is given by Declared Training Organisations (DTOs) while Commercial pilot (CPL and ATPL) training is given by Approved Training Organisations (ATOs).
The conversion route from a microlight licence NPPL(M) to NPPL(SSEA) and then LAPL is no longer available (unless your NPPL(SSEA) was issued before April 2018). Microlight hours aren’t recognised towards a LAPL or PPL course so you’ll have to sit all the exams, fly for 30 hours of instruction and take the LAPL skill test.
Apart from having a current medical certificate or personal medical declaration, there is a rolling currency requirement:
Within the previous 24 months of any solo flight:
- To have flown 12 hours as PIC AND
- To have made 12 take-offs and landings AND
- 1 hour dual instruction with an FI or CRI
This is subtly different from the two yearly EASA PPL revalidation process, where only the hours flown every second year count. On renewal of a PPL, you are effectively cleared for a further two years and could still be legally current up to 24 months later despite not having flown for perhaps more than 2 years.
A straightforward way to resolve lapsed LAPL currency is by taking a flight test with an examiner, possibly after some refresher training. An alternative is to fly solo under the supervision of an instructor (similar to when first learning or flying a solo cross country) until you have regained the 12 hours/12 take-offs/12 landings. An FI or CRI (Class Rating Instructor) can supervise these flights. You couldn’t fly with passengers during this time. Dual instruction doesn’t count either although might be required.
Unlike a PPL or NPPL licence, an instructor or examiner should never sign a new entry in a LAPL licence every two years. All evidence that you are current (including flight proficiency tests) is recorded only in your logbook. The CAA is not notified that a LAPL has revalidated or renewed and so cannot easily track the number of active LAPL pilots as for PPL.
Another “gotcha” is that when a LAPL is first issued, pilots may not fly solo with passengers until they have completed 10 hours solo. However, this limitation doesn’t apply to NPPL holders upgrading their licence provided they already have 6 hours PIC (reference CAP 804 Section 4 Part P Section 3.3 point 5).
Night flying with passengers is the same as for PPLs:
- You don’t need to have flown at night to retain night flying currency to fly solo, but do need to have made one take-off and landing at night in the last 90 days (out of at least 3 of each) if carrying passengers at night.
Hours flown on a microlight do count towards LAPL currency. This is now the same as with an NPPL, you could retain both microlight and SSEA currency by flying just one hour of SEP every two years and the rest on a microlight. Some do this by taking their instructor hour in a SEP once every 24 months. A signed logbook entry by the instructor should suffice.
Any Flight Instructor or Class Rating Instructor can provide training to extend your LAPL privileges to another class or variant of aeroplane (for which they themselves are qualified to instruct in).
Differences training is available for:
- Retractable Gear
- Variable Pitch Prop
- Single Power Lever (i.e. Diesel Engine)
- EFIS (Glass Cockpit Instruments)
CAA information notice 2014/093 explaining easement on cost sharing (including advertising of private flights) together with introductory flights, sailplane towing, parachute dropping, aerobatics within a club or ATO oversight.
The LAPL licence scheme is quite a complex topic and the specific procedures for these new rules continue to evolve. Double check anything written above, and feel free to correct or clarify any errors/omissions I might have inadvertently included by commenting below.
Last updated 10 Feb 2021