AOPA petitions FAA to eliminate burdensome flight instructor certificate renewal requirements

September 14, 1999

Federal Aviation Administration
Office of the Chief Council
Attn: Rules Docket (AGC-10)
800 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20591

Gentlemen,

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), representing the aviation interests of more than 350,000 pilots and aircraft owners, submits the following petition for rulemaking under the authority of 14 C.F.R. �11.25. This petition is intended to change various sections of part 61 relating to flight instructor privileges, certificate duration, renewal, and reinstatement.

AOPA is concerned that a large number of flight instructors and former flight instructors perceive the existing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulatory requirements for certificate expiration and reinstatement as being a significant disincentive to renewing an expired flight instructor certificate. This has substantially reduced the number of otherwise qualified and experienced part-time flight instructors available to teach and promote general aviation.

To address this concern, AOPA is proposing a two-part change to the present regulations. Part one proposes to eliminate the 24-month expiration date from the flight instructor certificate and replace it with an expiration of privileges of a similar duration. Under this proposal, the airman would retain the instructor certificate permanently. However, the ability to exercise the privileges of that certificate would continue to be dependent upon currency or renewal every 24 months in much the same manner as it exists today. The second part of this proposal would take advantage of the administrative change outlined above by modifying the time window in which a flight instructor may attend a Flight Instructor Refresher Clinic (FIRC) and reinstate his/her instructional privileges.

Part 1 - Duration of Flight Instructor Certificate:

Under current regulations, a flight instructor certificate is valid for 24 calendar months from the month in which it was issued. Prior to expiration of the instructor certificate, the regulations provide a number of renewal options. An instructor may renew by attending a FIRC, amassing the required number of certificate applicants who have passed their checkrides, taking a flight instructor checkride, or by adding another flight instructor certificate or rating. Each of these renewal options requires the issuance of a new instructor certificate.

Flight Instructors are required by regulation to exercise one of the previously mentioned options for renewing their instructor certificates. Under the current system, flight instructors, FIRC providers, the FAA Airman Certification Branch, and local Flight Standards District Offices (FSDO) are all tasked with facilitating portions of the certificate reissuance process. The local FSDO office is tasked with administering checkrides and processing on-site renewals while FIRC providers are required to process all the paperwork resulting from the renewal/refresher process. In addition, the FAA Airman Certification Branch is tasked with processing the certificate application and issuing the new flight instructor certificate.

According to FAA and NTSB data, there are currently 78,551 flight instructors in the United States. Given that flight instructors are required to renew their certificates every two years, it is reasonable to assume that the FAA reissues approximately half of the flight instructor certificates annually. Based on this assumption, the FAA Airman Certification Branch annually processes more than 39,000 applications for instructor certificate reissuance.

According to the Agency Display of Estimated Burden listed on FAA form 8710-1, every airman certificate application submitted to the FAA Airman Certification Branch requires an average of 15 minutes to process. Therefore, this branch of the FAA alone expends an average of 9750 salary hours annually to process the 39,000 applications for flight instructor certificate reissuance. This does not include the untold hours that FSDO personnel, FIRC providers, and instructors themselves expend on their responsibilities relating to reissuance of a single piece of paper. AOPA believes that the processing of such a great number of applications for certificate reissuance, and the resulting strain on FAA financial and administrative resources, are contributing factors to the substantial backlog currently plaguing the FAA Airman Certification Branch.

The majority of airman certificates issued under part 61 are issued without an expiration date. Instead, the exercise of an airman�s privileges is tied to recency of experience, or specific currency requirements. Removing the expiration date from the flight instructor certificate would allow the agency to focus on the currency of the instructor�s privileges in the same manner as nearly all other pilot and mechanic certificates and ratings. From a practical standpoint, the elimination of the expiration date from the flight instructor certificate will not require any significant changes to the renewal process.

To maintain currency for another 24 months, an instructor would still have the existing renewal options of demonstrating activity, attending a FIRC, adding an additional instructor rating, or taking a checkride. The only substantive difference would be that the instructor privileges would be renewed for an additional 24 months while the certificate remains unchanged and valid. This means that the regulatory duration of an instructor certificate would be aligned with nearly all other airmen certificates in that it would be effective until surrendered, suspended, or revoked. However, exercise of the privileges of the certificate would be tied to recency requirements within the preceding 24 calendar months.

AOPA proposes that the expiration date be removed from the flight instructor certificate on the basis that such a change will substantially reduce the administrative and economic burdens placed upon the FAA, FIRC providers, and the airman. To accomplish this a number of changes will be required to the regulatory language of 14 C.F.R. part 61. Outlined below is suggested language to facilitate the change in emphasis from the duration of the instructor certificate to the duration of instructor privileges.

�61.19 Duration of pilot and instructor certificates

  1. Flight instructor certificate. A flight instructor certificate issued under this part:
  1. is issued without a specific expiration date; and
  2. is effective only while the holder has a current pilot certificate.

�61.195 Flight instructor limitations and qualifications

A person who holds a flight instructor certificate is subject to the following limitations:

  1. Duration of privileges. The privileges of a flight instructor certificate and ratings expire 24 calendar months from the month of certificate issuance, renewal, or reinstatement, whichever occurred last.
  2. Exercise of privileges. A flight instructor may not exercise the privileges of an instructor certificate or rating unless, within the preceding 24 calendar months, the instructor has accomplished:
  1. The renewal requirements of �61.197; or
  2. The reinstatement of expired privilege requirements of �61.199.
  1. Hours of training. In any 24-consecutive hour period, a flight instructor may not conduct� et al.

� 61.197 Renewal of flight instructor privileges

  1. A person who holds a flight instructor certificate with privileges that have not expired may renew those privileges by �
  1. Passing a practical test for �
  1. One of the ratings listed on the flight instructor certificate; or
  2. An additional flight instructor rating; or
  1. Presenting to an authorized FAA Flight Standards Inspector �
  1. A record of training students showing that, during the preceding 24 calendar months, the flight instructor has endorsed at least five students for a practical test for a certificate or rating, and at least 80 percent of those students passed that test on the first attempt;
  2. A record showing that, within the preceding 24 calendar months, the flight instructor has served as a company check pilot, chief flight instructor, company check airman, or flight instructor in a Part 121 or Part 135 operation, or in a position involving the regular evaluation of pilots; or
  3. A graduation certificate showing that, within the preceding 3 calendar months, the person has successfully completed an approved flight instructor refresher course consisting of ground training or flight training, or a combination of both.

(b) The practical test required by paragraph (a)(1) of this section may be accomplished in a flight simulator or flight training device if the test is accomplished pursuant to an approved course conducted by a training center certificated under Part 142 of this chapter.

� 61.199 Expired flight instructor privileges

The holder of a flight instructor certificate who has not met the renewal requirements of �61.197 within the preceding 24 calendar months may reinstate the privileges of that certificate by:

  1. Passing a practical test as prescribed in �61.183(h) of this part for one of the ratings listed on the instructor certificate.

The regulatory changes required to eliminate the expiration date and the need to reissue flight instructor certificates are relatively minor. Despite the simplicity of this change, the benefits to the FAA and to the aviation community are enormous. By implementing this change the FAA will eliminate over 9700 salary hours of unnecessary administrative processing at the FAA Airman Certification Branch and significantly reduce the time needed to reinstate the privileges of a flight instructor holding an expired flight instructor certificate. Furthermore, the elimination of the expiration date from flight instructor certificates will not change the existing means by which instructor privileges/certificates are renewed or reinstated. Therefore, there will be no effect on the current level of safety assurance.

The elimination of the expiration date from a flight instructor certificate is a rather benign action in that it does not have any direct affect on the safety of flight or the manner in which a flight instructor renews his or her privileges after expiration. However, since no new certificate needs to be issued by the FAA, an opportunity exists for the development of a new flight instructor privilege reinstatement option. AOPA has included a second part to our rulemaking proposal to address the issue of granting flight instructors an additional privilege reinstatement option.

Part 2 - Reinstatement of Expired Flight Instructor Privileges:

As mentioned in the introduction, AOPA believes that the current regulations under which a flight instructor renews his or her privileges provide a disincentive for renewal. Experience has shown that many flight instructors allow their certificates to expire for several reasons. Often, an instructor will allow his or her certificate to expire because they do not engage in the type of instruction that allows them to accumulate the appropriate number of airman certificate applicants. This problem is often encountered by instructors who�s primary business is made up of biennial flight reviews, instrument proficiency checks, and training of airman who have allowed their currency to lapse.

Many other instructor certificates expire because of an instructor�s inability to attend a FIRC before the expiration date of their certificate. This problem is often encountered by instructors who are not regularly engaged in the business of flight training, or maintain another full time occupation. Flight instructors are often faced with unforeseen circumstances such as family emergencies, illness, and conflicting business schedules. These circumstances can make it extremely difficult, or even impossible, for an instructor to schedule or attend a FIRC within 90 days of the expiration of their instructor certificate. Additionally, many instructors allow their instructor certificates to expire simply by mistake.

Most instructors with expired certificates are discouraged from renewing their instructor privileges simply because they are required to take a checkride with an FAA inspector or a designated examiner. Many otherwise qualified instructors choose not to renew their instructor certificates simply to avoid the difficult, and often problematic, process of preparing for and scheduling a checkride. Instructors often encounter difficulties scheduling a checkride around bad weather, aircraft down for maintenance, and examiners with full schedules. Conflicting business schedules, family emergencies, and illness can add significantly to these problems. Consequently, the process of preparing for and scheduling a checkride can prove to be a monumental undertaking. Ultimately, this process dissuades a large number of highly qualified and experienced flight instructors from renewing their instructional privileges after expiration.

To encourage flight instructors with expired privileges to rejoin the instructional community, AOPA proposes a "grace period" for FIRC attendance after an instructor�s privileges have expired. Under the current regulations, once an instructor certificate has expired, the only means by which an instructor may renew his/her certificate is through a checkride. AOPA contends that a flight instructor would be much more likely to renew his or her instructional privileges if there were more time allotted to attend a FIRC. For these reasons, AOPA recommends that an instructor be given three calendar months after the expiration of his or her instructor privileges to complete a FIRC and reinstate instructional privileges.

During this "grace period", an airman�s instructional privileges would obviously be expired and could not be exercised. However, AOPA holds that this three calendar month "grace period" would persuade a large number of flight instructors with recently expired privileges to attend a FIRC and rejoin the instructional community.

Outlined below is suggested language to facilitate the implementation of the three calendar month FIRC attendance "grace period".

� 61.197 Renewal of flight instructor privileges.

  1. A person who hold a flight instructor certificate with privileges that have not expired, or privileges that expired no more than 3 calendar months ago, may renew those privileges by �
  1. Passing a practical test for �
  1. One of the ratings listed on the flight instructor certificate; or
  2. An additional flight instructor rating; or
  1. Presenting to an authorized FAA Flight Standards Inspector �
  1. A record of training students showing that, during the preceding 24 calendar months, the flight instructor has endorsed at least five students for a practical test for a certificate or rating, and at least 80 percent of those students passed that test on the first attempt; or
  2. A record showing that, within the preceding 24 calendar months, the flight instructor has served as a company check pilot, chief flight instructor, company check airman, or flight instructor in a Part 121 or Part 135 operation, or in a position involving the regular evaluation of pilots; or
  3. A graduation certificate showing that, within the preceding 3 calendar months, the person has successfully completed an approved flight instructor refresher course consisting of ground training or flight training, or a combination of both.

(b) The practical test required by paragraph (a)(1) of this section may be accomplished persuant to an approved course conducted by a training center certificated under Part 142 of this chapter.

� 61.199 Expired flight instructor privileges.

The holder of a flight instructor certificate who has not met the renewal requirements of �61.197 within the preceeding 24 calendar months may reinstate the privileges of that certificate by:

(1) Passing a practical test as prescribed in �61.183(h) of this part for one of the ratings listed on the instructor certificate.

The elimination of the expiration date from flight instructor certificates and a new renewal option such as the FIRC completion "grace period" will eliminate many of the unnecessary renewal requirements currently plaguing flight instructors. Additionally, these new privilege reinstatement options will eliminate the need for FSDO offices, FAA safety inspectors, and DPEs to administer unnecessary checkrides for flight instructor certificate or privilege renewals. In these times of FAA budgetary constraints and FAA employee travel limitations, these proposed regulatory changes would bring a much-needed reduction in FAA financial and administrative resource expenditures.

Summary

In summary, AOPA proposes that the above listed changes to the regulatory language of 14 C.F.R. part 61 be implemented in order to facilitate the elimination of the expiration date from flight instructor certificates and the implementation of a FIRC completion "grace period".

AOPA maintains that these changes will directly benefit the public by creating consistency in the manner in which airman certificated under part 61 renew their privileges. Furthermore, the proposed changes will encourage a large number of flight instructors with expired flight-instructor certificates to rejoin the instructional community by eliminating unnecessary financial burdens and administrative delays currently associated with the flight-instructor-certificate-renewal process.

Most importantly, AOPA holds that the proposed changes will eliminate the need for over 9700 salary hours of unnecessary administrative processing at FAA Airman Certification and countless man-hours and employee travel expenses at the FSDO level. Additionally, AOPA maintains that the aforementioned changes will not adversely affect the quality of flight training or flight safety. We believe this on the grounds that the above mentioned regulatory philosophy regarding the reinstatement of expired airman privileges is currently in use by the majority of airman holding certificates issued under part 61.

We thank you for your time and consideration in this matter, and stand ready to assist the FAA in reconsidering these regulations.

Respectfully,

Dennis E. Roberts
Vice President/Executive Director
Government and Technical Affairs