Flying with an EASA PPL in Australia

Australia - a country so vast, open and largely empty that aviation is a key component of everyday life. Commercial flights link the populous centres on the east and west coasts, workers at remote mining sites commute on 'fly-in-fly-out' rosters and the historical Royal Flying Doctor Service still provides life-saving relief to communities both large and small.

From 2018-2019, I had the fortune to spend a year working and travelling Down Under, and while there I was keen to convert my EASA PPL to the local equivalent. With (expensive) scenic flights being offered almost anywhere tourists might pass through, I was really curious to take to the skies myself and see the stunning deserts, forests and coastlines first-hand from above.

When I first looked into the conversion process with CASA (Australia's Civil Aviation Authority), I landed on their 'Converting Overseas Licences' page which states that there are two main methods to use a foreign PPL; either with a Certificate of Validation (CoV), or by converting completely to a local equivalent which then runs independent of your overseas licence. Since a CoV only lasts for 12 months and still requires many of the initial steps of a full conversion, I decided that only the latter would really be worth doing. While the process is a little bit more involved, the end result is a shiny new Australian PPL which, like the EASA one, will last for the holder's lifetime.

So what exactly needs to be done, and in what order? For a vanilla PPL, the process looks like this:

1. Apply for an Aviation Reference Number (ARN).
2. Apply for an Aviation Security Identification Card (ASIC).
3. Get a local Australian medical.
4. Fill in and e-mail form SRG-1160 to the UK CAA to allow them to release your details to CASA.
5. Fill in and mail form 61-4A to CASA, along with form 61-9PIC and a recent passport-style photo.
6. Arrange for a flight review with an examiner, and sort out your aircraft rental.

The whole process can be long, and it will cost you a fair bit of cash before you're actually signed off and ready to fly solo. I was in Australia for a year, and it must have taken the first three months and an up-front cost of over $1000 before I had my licence in my hand. It shouldn't come as a surprise, though, that an expensive hobby in a country where a pint of beer can cost $10 requires a bit of investment! With that in mind, let's look at each step in a bit more detail.

Aviation Reference Number

Getting an ARN is free, and can be done online outside of Australia. It might, however, be easier to wait until you land as you'll need to send off certified copies of a number of personal documents as noted here. There are probably places you can get this done in your home country, but certifications are free from any Australian police station.

As an aside, the Aussies seem to be keen on certified documents for anything remotely official. I had to provide copies of my passport, birth certificate, etc... when registering a car and getting hooked up to basic public services. At the end of the day it's just an easy paperwork exercise, but it can be a problem if you're swanning around the outback and need to make a detour of a few hundred kilometres to get someone's signature!

Aviation Security Identification Card

The ASIC is a security background check which can take a few weeks to complete, and costs a few hundred dollars. It's a post-2001 measure which is supposed to control who has access to the airside areas of larger airports. If you're flying from small towns or doing a cross-country trip through the outback, you may never even need to show your card, but it's required to apply for a PPL in the first place so there's no way around it! You'll need more certified copies of your life history here, so maybe it's worth working out everything that's required before you start the conversion process, and saving yourself multiple trips to stand in line at the police station!

To get my ASIC, I actually corresponded with a flight school in Perth who gave me some general advice, took care of most of the paperwork and sorted out my photos. More importantly, they acted as a witness for my original documents and received the card for me when it was ready. You can't get your ASIC delivered in the post; instead it has to be sent to a CASA approved 'agent' where you must pick it up face-to-face. I'm not sure exactly sure where to find your nearest ASIC agent, but asking any local flight school, as I did, is a good place to start.

Getting a CASA medical

This step is simple, and probably doesn't differ from the medical process in your own country. Just find someone who offers aviation medicals and book an appointment!

Sorting out the paperwork

The CAA's SRG1160 form is pretty unambiguous and, and took about 15 minutes to complete. I largely just re-used an old copy from earlier in the year when I was converting with the US FAA. You need to pay a small fee for them to process this paperwork, which came to £45 at the time I did it. Once the CAA receives this form, they will confirm that your PPL actually exists when CASA comes around to ask.

CASA's form 61-4A is a bit more involved, and looks quite intimidating up-front. They do provide their own instructions on the first page, but not all of them are relevant for a simple PPL conversion. Perhaps the most awkward part is totalling up your flying hours and splitting them into the different categories, but I think a rough estimate here is fine. They're just trying to verify that you meet the requirements for the issue of a PPL, which, seeing as you already hold one, you probably do! You'll need another fistful of certified documents here, so be ready for a trip down the station.

The simpler piece of CASA paperwork is form 61-9PIC, which allows you to send in a physical photo of yourself. Remember - you guessed it - to get everything signed/certified! I didn't have any spare passport photos when I landed, but I found that OfficeWorks (a country-wide office supply store) took good quality pics for a reasonable price.

Once you're ready to put the forms in the post, you'll need to make a payment to CASA so that they'll process them upon receipt. The first page of form 61-4A includes a link to the relevant site where you can pay online. You'll need to send in a copy of the receipt with your papers, so do this before you actually send them off.

All the form-filling and document-copying can seem like a rabbit hole at first, and it's easy to start wondering what you might have forgotten, but I never had any issues once everything was bundled together and sent off. Most of what you need to know is in the forms themselves or on CASA's website, and I'm sure they'd get in touch to help you out if anything was forgotten.

Flight review and aircraft rental

At this point, you should have received your fresh Aussie PPL in the post! Before you can use it, you'll need to complete a flight review with an examiner. This is a biennial process, similar to how it works in the UK and US. Once you've done this checkflight, you're good to go for the next two years.

For the finer details of this, just get in touch with a flight school near you. Most major cities in all the territories will have some sort of GA scene. I did mine in Perth, and, while I'd have chosen a different school in hindsight, I think it's basically the same whoever you're with. Once you finish your review, you'll get a revalidation signature on your licence just like you do at home.


Now all that's left is to hit the road and find some fun places to fly! All my trips were local scenic flights from Perth, Darwin and Cairns, with the Great Barrier Reef being a particular highlight. The feeling of hopping in a Cessna and spotting sharks, turtles and rays from 500ft above the beautiful turquoise water is something that will stay with me forever.

There are so many more places in this stunning and naturally wondrous country that I'd like to see from the air, but there are only so many hours in the day (and limited cash in the bank)! I guess it's another reason why doing the full PPL conversion was the right decision; I can go back later and pick up where I left off!