President's Position

Pilot photo ID

April 1, 2002

Phil Boyer, AOPA's president since 1991, has been flying for more than 30 years.

In December last year, three aviation organizations took a preemptive step by crafting 12 recommendations for general aviation airport, aircraft, pilot, and passenger security. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) joined with AOPA to employ a former FAA security chief to assist us in writing these proposals. They were simple, inexpensive steps to address the growing concern for GA security in light of dramatically stricter airline rules. In hindsight, the move was a wise one, particularly with the Tampa suicide the very next month highlighting a need for GA controls. As I appeared on numerous television interviews, the fact that AOPA could point to existing recommendations put all of us in a better position.

One of those recommendations was photo identification for pilots. Even pre-September 11, 2001, AOPA members had told me they think the paper pilot certificate issued by the FAA is a pitiful representation of all the effort and money they put in. After a personal visit to the FAA Airmen's Registry in Oklahoma City, where certificates and medicals are processed, it became obvious that a pilot photo ID wasn't very feasible in the near future. While the public and government officials wanted assurances that GA had some level of added security, it looked like a minimum of five years and substantial dollars would be needed to put in place the systems to produce such identification. And if the FAA states "five years," one can easily predict double that! Startup costs to cover the more than one million certificate holders would be enormous. The recurring costs to renew these certificates would include adding 70 percent to the present staff and some $2 million annually. In February it was announced that 25,000 railroad workers would be required to carry photo ID. The cost: $200 million to start the program and issue the first set of IDs. And, each worker would be charged $50 to $75.

Even if the FAA were to be able to do something sooner, consider the ramifications for pilots. Don't think for a moment you'd be able to send in a passport-size photograph and the ID would be issued. To meet the most minimum security standard, the agency would require pilots to apply for identification in person at a federal facility and have a picture taken there. More than likely, the location pilots would have to go to would be an FAA flight standards district office (FSDO). With fewer than 100 of these scattered around the country, the time penalties on pilots would be substantial. Imagine taking time from work to travel during weekday hours to one of these locations, wait in line, and then return for periodic renewal.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) in a recent Senate hearing stated that "general aviation security is a ticking time bomb," adding to AOPA's concern that some draconian measures might be put into place. In a subsequent visit with Kohl's staff, AOPA Legislative Affairs was told the senator was angry that no government action had been taken.

Since my December visit to the FAA in Oklahoma City, AOPA had been researching an idea that would provide positive picture identification of a pilot at little to no extra cost, and more importantly, could be put into place immediately.

Your association has proposed that in addition to a pilot certificate and current medical, pilots would have to carry some form of government-issued photo ID. In most cases this would be a state-issued driver's license. All 50 states issue photo licenses and they have applied for $70 million in funds to increase the security of those cards. AOPA research also has found that every state has some form of nondriver's-license photo ID available for those who don't drive. It's so simple, and makes so much sense, I am surprised it isn't already in place. After all, we have to produce a driver's license to get our first student medical, must show the same for a flight check or test for advanced ratings, and airline passengers are being identified by a driver's license at almost every point in the check-in and boarding process. And, as pilots, is this an awesome proposal? For heaven's sake, most of us drive to the airport to go flying, so we need our driver's license for that trip.

We have proposed this idea to the FAA administrator as rulemaking and have asked her to take this to a direct final rule, which eliminates a time-consuming comment period. With the stroke of a pen she can make this happen.

Why put forth this petition now? If the responsible pilots of America don't take a proactive approach now, the government or others will. We may not like what we get, it will be costly, and without a formal identification process in place as the government looks for other solutions, any attempts by AOPA to oppose or amend those solutions will make it appear as if GA pilots aren't interested in supporting national security. South Dakota has already passed a bill that would mandate a state pilot's license, with photo ID, and charge pilots for it. Other states are proposing similar actions. With the driver's license rulemaking in place, it will be much easier to convince them that a national program for pilot identification is already in place.

While it is important we defend our freedom to fly during these troubled times, it is also important that pilots are seen as proactive in helping to solve the concerns of the public. The AOPA proposal is just that, and unlike the other security measures being put into place for aviation, this one doesn't cost a cent — to either taxpayers or to pilots.