Gliding In France

Home Up


Why Bother?

This page is intended to encourage pilots who are put off by the bureaucracy involved in taking a glider to France. These are just some of the advantages of flying there:

  • Its proximity, lying just across the channel. 
  • Excellent soaring conditions, especially south of the Alps.
  • Few limitations on cross-country flying. 
  • Spectacular mountain scenery.
  • Wonderful food and wine, to suit all tastes and pockets.
  • Plenty of activities and attractions for non-flying partners. 

The guidance notes given below are believed to be valid as of May 22nd 2012 and are offered in good faith. Don't blame me if they are in error or out-of-date!

Please note these Safety Flashes relating to FLARM and high-visibility markings, and information regarding the French Glider Pilots' Licence and Pilot Equivalence

See here for further recent safety and other advice (May 2012) !

What's The Problem, Anyway?

Over the past few years the French have imposed what at first sight appear to be obstacles designed specifically to keep the Brits away. In order to understand why they have done this, it must be understood that most, if not all, EU countries have a system of state-issued licences for glider pilots - the relevant national aviation authority has a close interest in keeping control of all its aviators. The UK, on the other hand, is an exception: historically, the BGA was set up to operate outside the scope and control of the CAA and, to the great benefit of all UK glider pilots, this situation continues today. 

Whilst previously turning a blind eye to the anomaly that is the UK Glider Pilot, these days the French authorities have taken the view that pilots from other EU states may only fly freely in France if they have a state-issued licence and, in our case, this would mean a CAA Glider Pilot's Licence (not one issued by some other authority like the BGA). The reasons the French have taken this stance are in dispute but, as we are glider pilots and therefore pragmatic by nature, let's deal with the situation as it stands.   

It must be understood further that these restrictions have not been at all welcomed by the instructors on the ground. We have been flying at Sisteron for 25 years and are aware that many of the French clubs manage to survive only on the custom provided by visitors. The last thing they needed was a pile of bureaucracy from Paris. Fortunately, after negotiation, measures were introduced by the French that would allow UK glider pilots to fly their own gliders in France without the need for a UK PPL, and the following describes how this may be achieved.

OK, This Paperwork, Then ...

These are the rules:

  • If a pilot with a BGA Gliding Certificate wants to fly solo in France, he/she must be given approval by the French Authorities.
  • If a pilot wants to fly solo in a French glider, he/she must hold a Glider Pilot's Licence issued by a National Authority. The only exception is when flying solo as a student pilot under instruction. There is currently no way around this.
  • If an Annex II UK-registered glider is to be flown in France, the glider must be provided with a French Permit to Fly. EASA gliders do not require a Permit. 

Pilot Approval 

There are now two alternative processes available:

1) Pilot Equivalence
This is a means of pilot validation that results in a document referred to as a Pilot Equivalence, which confirms to the club your identity and flying experience. 

The period of validity of the Pilot Equivalence is two years. 

Collect the following items:

  • Two passport-type identity photos
  • Photocopies of :
    • The last 12 months from your logbook, to demonstrate the sort of flying you have been doing. 
    • Your BGA Gliding Certificate.  
    • Written confirmation from the BGA that your BGA Gliding Certificate is valid. 
    • Your passport.
    • Your medical certificate (see below).
    • A copy of your flight test certificate (see below).
    • A fee of 80 euros, payable as follows:
      • Some clubs, Sisteron included, will manage the entire process provided that you send these documents to the club in advance. They will make the payment on your behalf and debit your club account accordingly.

        Please note: You must allow enough time for the Sisteron office to process your application. A minimum of 10 days is required for the DGAC to process your application. Further information may be required by the Sisteron office, so simply sending your details just 10 days in advance of your arrival may not guarantee that you will be allowed to fly. A lead time of 30 days would be appreciated.  

      • I understand that payments by credit card are now accepted - please make enquiries to Mme Sophie Nercessian, contact details below.
      • Alternatively, payment can be made by cheque or electronic transfer to:
      Address TPMARSEILLE
      Code banque 10071
      Code guichet 13000
      N° de compte 00001012450
      Clé RIB 39
      IBAN FR76 1007 1130 0000 0010 1245 039

If your club is unable to process the documentation for you, the documents referred to above should be sent to the DGAC at the following address, accompanied by a letter indicating the gliding site from which you intend to fly and the proposed date and duration of your visit.

Mme Sophie Nercessian
Minister de l'Equipement des Transports et du Tourisme
Direction Général de L'Aviation Civile
Délégation Régionale Provence
2 Aeroport


0033 4
Fax: 0033 4

The validation papers will be sent to you after your application has been approved and payment received.

Two of these items require further explanation.

  • Medical Certificate

The medical regulations now require all pilots to undergo an ECG examination in addition to a formal medical examination. 

The medical certificate must be issued by the national aviation authority and, in the absence of a CAA Glider Pilot's Medical, the least costly route within the UK is to obtain a JAR Class 2 medical. There are several tame CAA Authorised Medical Examiners in the country whose charges vary considerably, so if this is your preferred route, make enquiries first.

An alternative method, and one which we have used successfully over many years, is to obtain a French Medical Certificate during a visit to France. The first step of the new process is to contact the doctor responsible for providing the ECG and arrange an examination. Having successfully overcome that hurdle, you will be provided with the electrocardiogram which you must take to the doctor responsible for conducting the remainder of the medical examination (the two processes are not necessarily conducted by the same person).

Assuming that you are successful, you will be provided with a yellow Glider Pilot's medical certificate; in addition, you may also be provided with a DGAC Class 2 medical certificate. The costs at Sisteron during December 2008 were €35 for the ECG and €60 for the remainder of the medical. The certificate is valid for 2 years. 

Most French gliding clubs have details of local doctors who are able to provide these services. Note that it may no longer be as straightforward as it used to be to just turn up, do the medical and go and fly - some care is needed to coordinate the appointments. That said, we are assured that once the medical certificate is presented to the club, it will be faxed to the DGAC and then, provided they have your other details on file, a pilot equivalence will be faxed back to the club within 24 hours. 

For Pilots intending to fly from Sisteron, the following contact information may be useful:
ECG Examiner
Name: Dr Franck Sammani
Address: 22 avenue de la Libération (next to Toyota garage on main road south of town centre) 
Tel: 0033 4 92 61 13 80
Fax: 0033 4 92 61 18 91
Medical Examiner
Name: Dr Francois Neuveux
Address: Le Place de l'Horloge (in the centre of Sisteron Town)
Coordinates: 44º 11.973N 05º 56.643E
Note that Dr Neuveux intends to retire by the end of 2011. Please click here, entering 04 or 05 in the postcode section, for a list of local doctors. 
  • Flight Test

The Flight Test is mandatory for pilots new to the area. The test lasts a minimum of one hour and is intended to help pilots to orientate themselves with respect to the local mountains, to illustrate field landing options and to check general glider handling skills. The test is no more demanding than that one would expect in the UK but be warned that for pilots who clearly do not handle the glider safely or do not keep an adequate lookout (particularly important with the number of gliders to be expected in the Alps), the check flight will be far from a formality and further two-seater training will be offered and should be accepted.

The Flight Test would normally need to be repeated every year unless the pilot can prove (by means of a logbook) that he or she has flown more than 5 hours (yes, five) in the previous 12 months. This should not be a problem - any pilot unable to meet this requirement is likely to benefit considerably from a further check flight.

Bear in mind that the club needs our business and will do everything it can to enable us to fly. A visitor's glider sitting in its trailer is of no use to the club. We have always found the local authorities to be nothing less than helpful and understanding in dealing with and, on occasion, re-interpreting the rules. They are on our side.

2) Pilot Approval - French Glider Pilot's Licence (BPP)

Mindful of the extra hassle the Pilot Validation process causes the visiting UK pilot, the Sisteron and Vinon clubs have offered an alternative in the form of half-day courses designed to assist you in obtaining a French Glider Pilot's licence (Brevet de Pilote de Planeur). 

The process will involve:

  • Presentation of the documents listed in the Pilot Approval section, in advance of your visit. 
  • An oral examination to assess your knowledge of gliding.
  • A test flight.
  • A one-off fee of 80 euros.

A reasonably experienced pilot should have no trouble in passing the exam and the test flight. The Sisteron team envisage that the entire process would be completed in half a day, after which a temporary one-month pilot validation will be provided, while the paperwork is sent off to the DGAC for processing. The pilot will be able to start flying immediately, subject to the notes below.

The obvious advantage is that there will no longer be any need to revisit the Pilot Validation in the future (at least until EASA gets in the way). And a further benefit is that some licence holders will be permitted to fly French-registered gliders.

Important Notes: The CFI of the Sisteron club has requested that I post some clarifications in respect of the BPP. These notes apply to pilots who do not possess a PPL. The guidelines are more relaxed for PPL-holders. 
  • You must allow enough time for the Sisteron office to process your application. A minimum of 10 days is required for the DGAC to process your application. Further information may be required by the Sisteron office, so simply sending your details just 10 days in advance of your arrival may not guarantee that you will be allowed to fly. A lead time of 30 days would be appreciated. 
  • The exam that is offered by Sisteron for the French Glider Pilots' Licence is available only to pilots who are flying from the Sisteron club. The CFI is unwilling to sign off licences for pilots from other clubs, whom he does not know.
  • The basic privilege of the BPP allows the holder to fly locally, solo only (even in the pilot's own glider). 
  • Further privileges are dictated by French rules, which state that after the licence has been granted, at least 10 hours of cross country training is required in order to obtain authorisation to fly cross country. A further flight-test is required after 50 hours following the granting of the French licence in order to obtain authorisation to fly with a passenger. PPL holders may fly cross-country with a passenger immediately after the licence has been granted. 
  • Given the above, visitors may prefer the extra flexibility afforded by the annual Pilot Equivalence over the potential benefits of the French Licence. Please allow the CFI to manage your expectations by discussing with him well in advance your gliding experience and your intentions during your visit.  

Feedback from a British pilot who has managed to obtain his Brevet de Pilote de Planeur from the Vinon club is of the opinion that the process may take substantially longer than the half-day quoted by the Sisteron team. If this is a matter of concern for you, my advice would be to obtain the Pilot Equivalence as described in paragraph 1 of this section and, if you are willing to take the extra €80 hit, you could arrange to take the exam during your stay. 

Please contact the club direct for further details.

Anyone who would like to practice their French comprehension can view this document on the licence rules.

Glider Validation

  • Annex II gliders are required to undergo a validation procedure, which requires a copy of the glider's BGA C of A. a fee of 20 euros and a note indicating where the glider is to be based and the relevant dates, to be sent to:

Direction Générale de l'Aviation Civile
Division Aeronefs
50 Rue Henri Farman

Tel: 0033 1
Fax: 0033 1
  • EASA gliders that have undergone the transition process are permitted to fly on presentation of its C of A, ARC and details of its insurance. 

Safety Equipment

  • Flarm

All French Alpine clubs require Flarm devices to be fitted to all gliders that fly from their airfields, including those of visitors. Flarm is an electronic device that warns of potential collisions and it works by interrogating Flarm units of nearby gliders and other aircraft. Any glider that does not carry Flarm will be 'invisible' to other Flarm units. Be aware that on a good soaring day, many gliders will be using the same ridge routes at high speed and, however good the visibility and however rigorous the pilot's lookout, they will not all be seen

See here for more details on Flarm.

  • Conspicuity Markings

It is mandatory for all gliders flying from French Alpine clubs to carry high-visibility anti-collision markings. The Sisteron club now offers self-adhesive marking strips for purchase by visiting pilots whose gliders are not adequately marked. Personal experience indicates 30 minutes should be allowed for fixing the marking strips. Pilots may also consider bringing with them an adequate stock of tape in advance of their holiday, in case local supplies run out.

  • Distress Radio Beacons

It is strongly recommended that pilots intending to fly in the Alps bring some form of Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT), Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), or similar, whether fixed or portable. It is very difficult to see a glider against mountain snow, even in the areas most visited by other gliders, and the use of a distress beacon will reduce considerably the search time for a downed pilot. To be injured and benighted at altitude on a mountainside is a life-threatening situation.  

More advice

John McCullagh has kindly prepared this invaluable and comprehensive guide to the nuts and bolts of flying from Sisteron and offers more general advice on what to look out for when flying in the mountains:

Please take a look at this excellent document, prepared by Pierre Lemaire from the CNVV at St Auban, based on 70 years' worth of experience accumulated by St Auban instructors. If you have never flown in the mountains, or you have but wonder why you are still alive, it is essential reading.  

New Driving Regulation: From July 1st 2012 all vehicles driven in France must carry a breathalyser kit that meets French NF (French Laboratory) approval. It is recommended that a minimum of two kits should be carried: one to allow self-testing and the other unused one to comply with the regulations. Failure to carry an unused tube may result in a fine. You have been warned! 

Is there anything else?

Not really - just bring the necessary documents as described earlier, along with any other pilot documentation that you might have. The booking-in process at the club lasts 15 minutes and then there is little left to do but rig, have lunch, and fly!