AOPA petitions FAA for simple pilot photo ID

February 21, 2002

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) today petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration to require that pilots carry government-issued photo identification (driver's license, passport, etc.) with them whenever they pilot an aircraft. That ID, matched with the information on a FAA pilot certificate, would positively identify legitimate pilots.

"Since September 11, the need for a picture identification for pilots has been an important element in many security discussions," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "With a simple stroke of the pen, and with minimal cost to taxpayers, the FAA could satisfy that security concern."

AOPA asked the FAA to implement the change by "direct final rule," which bypasses the normal rulemaking process and would permit the photo ID requirement to go into effect within 30 days.

"Our driver's license proposal could be put in place almost immediately, it addresses the security need to positively identify pilots, and it will cost next to nothing," Boyer said. "This may be too simple for the government, but it sure makes good sense."

Pilot certificates or "licenses" currently are simple pieces of paper listing the pilot's name, identifying characteristics, address, and pilot ratings. But this FAA-printed document does not include a photo. Pilots must carry the pilot certificate and a current medical certificate (demonstrating that the pilot is fit to fly) when in command of an aircraft.

"In December, AOPA and other industry groups recommended pilot photo IDs to the FAA and Transportation Security Administration. We haven't seen any progress," said Boyer. "In fact, the FAA has been under a mandate to develop photo pilot IDs since 1988.

"The government infrastructure to issue photo IDs already exists in all 50 states, in the District of Columbia, and in other branches of the federal government," Boyer said. "We can do this now, not five years from now."

AOPA noted that the states have agreed to upgrade driver's license security features and have asked Congress for additional funds to create high-tech licenses.

In fact, the FAA already requires a driver's license for security identification. Airline passengers must present a driver's license or similar photo ID to pass through airport security. The FAA requires prospective pilots to show a driver's license before taking an FAA written exam or flight test.

General aviation pilots support the driver's license proposal, according to informal surveys of AOPA members across the nation. "After all, you need a license to drive to the airport," Boyer said.

Other appropriate photo IDs could include state photo identification cards (which all states will issue in lieu of a driver's license), U.S. government-issued passports, U.S. military IDs, and federal and state government identification cards.

"The FAA is still considering its own photo ID system," said Boyer. "But it could take up to five years for the FAA to implement such a system, and it would cost millions of dollars to get it started. The FAA would spend an additional $2 million a year just to run the system."

There are currently some 630,000 active pilots in the United States (meaning they have current medical certificates and are legal to fly at this moment), plus an additional 530,000 people holding non-pilot airman certificates (mechanics, flight engineers, ground instructors, etc.) Since 1950, the FAA has issued more than three million pilot certificates alone. That means the FAA could be facing a demand to issue millions of photo IDs if it were to try to do it itself.

AOPA's petition for rulemaking asks that the FAA amend Sections 61.3 (a) and 61.3 (1) of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (commonly called the federal aviation regulations) to read that a person may not act as a pilot of a civil aircraft of U.S. registry unless that person has a "form of photographic identification acceptable to the [FAA] Administrator," and that each person required to have this ID "must present it for inspection upon request from the Administrator or any federal, state, or local law enforcement officer."

A copy of AOPA's petition is available online. A graphic of a pilot certificate is available online in the press release section.

The 380,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. Nearly two thirds of the nation's pilots and three quarters of the aircraft owners are AOPA members.

AOPA represents the interests of general aviation—all flying except scheduled airlines and the U.S. military. The 221,000 general aviation aircraft in the United States constitute 92 percent of the nation's civilian fleet. General aviation accounts for 60 percent of all hours flown and 80 percent of all takeoffs and landings.

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