Answers for Pilots

New year, new rating

January 1, 1999

Information resources for AOPA members

It's the beginning of a new year, and pilots, like everyone else, are making some resolutions. A safe bet is a resolution to add a new rating or certificate - it will serve to enhance your overall flying experience by increasing your knowledge and thereby increasing the safety for you and your passengers.

The technical specialists available to members on the AOPA Pilot Information Center not only know the value of adding a new rating, they are active pilots themselves, and are also constantly increasing their own knowledge. One of your most valuable member benefits is the ability to interact with these specialists. These pilots frequently receive calls from members about rating, category, or certificate additions - especially since Federal Aviation Regulations Part 61, which governs the training requirements for a new certificate, was extensively rewritten in 1997. "We deal with a lot of questions concerning what the regulations call for versus what the reality is when attempting to earn a new rating," said Robert Fisher, a Pilot Information Center technical specialist who recently earned a commercial helicopter certificate. "I usually offer to a member that an additional rating can take as much as twice the time as the regulations call for whether you are a zero-hour pilot or a seasoned pilot."

It is this first-hand knowledge that allows AOPA members to receive such good advice. "This is pilot-to-pilot information," states Fisher.

Specialist John Collins, for example, is a commercial pilot who holds multiengine and instrument ratings; he is also an instrument and multiengine flight instructor. So a recent call from Robert Anderson, AOPA 1277226, presented an opportunity to offer his expertise.

Anderson had recently moved to North Carolina from New Jersey and was surprised by the change in flying conditions. "The visibility in North Carolina in the summer months is just terrible," reports Anderson. "What they were calling 10-mile visibility, I'd call three to five at best." High humidity, air temperatures that hover in the 90s, and mountains along the western end of the state conspire to create a haze that obscures the normally bright blue skies in the Carolinas.

"If Mr. Anderson doesn't want to spend a lot of time stuck on the ground next summer, I recommend adding an instrument rating," Collins said.

To help Anderson get started on his instrument rating, Collins provided a basic review of FAR Part 61 - available on the AOPA Web site ( - and sent a prepared information package on earning an instrument rating.

This free information includes not only a copy of FAR 61, but reprints of articles on obtaining an instrument rating from AOPA Pilot, such as "The Rating: The Boot Camp of Aviation." As an AOPA member, Anderson can access the database of flight schools on AOPA's Web site. Members are often surprised at the extent of information offered, added Collins.

If your new year's resolution includes new ratings, here's some advice from the experts at AOPA: Looking for the easiest and least expensive rating? It's a seaplane rating, sometimes called the "splash and dash" rating. It's fun, it's different, and there's no knowledge test required, but it's tough to use unless you have a seaplane base nearby. Information packages on popular seaplane models from AOPA include flight school locations as well as articles from AOPA Pilot on the subject. (Visit the Web site at

The most popular add-on is the multiengine rating. It's more procedural and more expensive, but it greatly increases the utility of GA for pilots who fly long distances, in weather, over water, and mountains. Flight schools, reports on twin-engine airplane models, and related Pilot articles are included in the "Multi-engine vs. Single-engine" package. Similar information can be found on the Web site (

Despite what you may believe, the FAA encourages pilots to increase their proficiency. Pilots upgrading to a commercial or airline transport pilot certificate will be pleased to know that the agency recently relaxed its requirement that pilots pass medical qualifications before undertaking any training. Training may now be started before the qualification has been met, although privileges may not be exercised until the appropriate medical exam is passed. "This is a big plus for everybody," said Fisher. "All training enhances skill."

"Making the decision to improve our skill level is sometimes more difficult than achieving the new rating," Collins adds. "The experience, increase in knowledge, and the increase in safety are worth the investment in both time and money."

As an AOPA member, you have access to the best source available anywhere for information and answers for pilots. The AOPA Pilot Information Center gives you direct access to specialists in every area of general aviation. The center, 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672), is staffed by pilots and trained specialists to help you with any aviation-related questions. The center is available to members 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. Detailed information is also available from AOPA Online (

Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker | AOPA Senior Features Editor

AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.