FAA proposes photo pilot certificate

November 18, 2010

The FAA has issued a proposal that would require all pilots and student pilots to transition to a pilot certificate with a photograph over a five-year period.

Congress mandated that the FAA start issuing improved, tamper-resistant pilot certificates that include a photo ID and biometric capabilities as part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which became law in late 2004. The proposal, published in the Federal Register Nov. 19, is intended to meet that law’s requirements. AOPA is currently reviewing the document to evaluate the potential effects and if the proposal fulfills the intent of the law.

Under the proposal, airline transport pilots would have three years after the final rule to obtain a pilot certificate with a photo, commercial pilots would have four, and private, recreational, and sport pilots would have five years. Pilots would be required to renew the photo every eight years to continue exercising the privileges of their certificate. The proposal calls for an initial $22 fee for issuing the certificates, and pending legislation could raise that fee. Designees also would charge a fee to accept and verify the applications.

Upon initial review, the association is concerned with the way the FAA proposes to handle student pilot certificates. Because the student pilot certificate would be issued by the FAA’s Airmen Certification Branch, the FAA estimates it could take up to six to eight weeks to issue a student pilot certificate—longer than it would take some students to reach the solo stage of their training. The association is also reviewing whether the proposal addresses all the requirements of the 2004 law.

Although pilot certificates would continue to be issued without an expiration date in this new proposal, there would be an eight-year expiration of the pilot photo.  The privileges of the certificate may not be exercised without a current photo on the certificate.  What that means is although there’s only one checkride, a pilot would have to submit a new photo and receive a new certificate every eight years.

The FAA’s notice of proposed rulemaking does not indicate if the new certificate will have the capability to address any of the security-related issues that have arisen over the past number of years, in particular the difficulties encountered by the GA population with the introduction of the Transportation Security Administration’s Security Directive 8G that expanded badging requirements at all airports that it regulates.

AOPA successfully petitioned the FAA in 2002 for the requirement that pilots carry photo identification when exercising the privileges of a pilot certificate ( see FAR 61.3(a)) to address security concerns, and the FAA began issuing counterfeit-resistant plastic certificates the following year. All pilots were required to obtain one of the new pilot certificates before exercising their privileges by March 31, 2010. Both driver’s licenses and pilot certificates have become more secure in the intervening years; and airline pilots currently carry company-issued credentials, as well as security credentials for the airports they frequent.

The comment period is open for 90 days; pilots may submit comments online, in person, by fax, or by mail to Docket Operations, M-30; U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Room W12-140, West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590-0001. Identify Docket No. FAA-2010-1127.