Photo certificate proposal lacks safety, security benefits

February 17, 2011

AOPA has called for the FAA to withdraw its proposal to require all pilots to obtain a photo on their pilot certificate because it adds no safety or security benefit, while adding substantial costs to pilots and the federal government.

Before pilots and the federal government incur new costs associated with changes to airman certification, further coordination is needed between industry stakeholders, the FAA, and other government agencies to ensure that any changes to the pilot certificate provide a true benefit while minimizing the impact of the changes, AOPA said in formal comments submitted Feb. 17.

The FAA filed its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), “Photo Requirements for Pilot Certificates,” on Nov. 19, 2010, in response to the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA). A provision of that law, enacted in 2004, requires the FAA to issue improved pilot certificates that are resistant to tampering, alteration, or counterfeiting; include a photograph of the individual to whom the certificate is issued; and are capable of accommodating a digital photograph, biometric identifier, or any other unique identifier deemed necessary by the FAA administrator.

The FAA has already addressed a portion of the requirements by issuing plastic, tamper-resistant certificates. The FAA also promulgated, at the request of AOPA, a change to FAR 61.3 requiring pilots to have a government issued ID readily accessible for inspection when exercising the privileges of their pilot certificates. 

The FAA’s proposed rule to add a photo to the pilot certificate “perpetuates a piece-meal approach to addressing the requirements of IRTPA, adding significant expense to pilots and the federal government while offering no new benefit to safety or security,” said Rob Hackman, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs, in AOPA’s formal comments.

AOPA also challenged cost estimates, expressing the expectation that the actual total cost of implementation to airman “will likely be more than the $445.8 million 20-year estimated cost to airmen and $718.7 million total cost estimated” in the proposal.

AOPA also focused on the proposal’s failure to quantify the true cost to pilots. “Even in the proposal, there is discussion raised about a near-future increase in the fee imposed by the FAA. Additionally, there is uncertainty regarding the fee that will be charged by designees to process the application,” Hackman said. “Add to all the fees, the expense in travel, time, cost to obtain a photo, etc. and this proposal equates to a substantial economic impact to airmen.”

AOPA is urging that the entire proposal be withdrawn, but addressed some of its specifics.

AOPA opposed a requirement for student pilots to obtain a photo pilot certificate. The expected six- to eight-week processing interval would create a detriment to safety, hinder optimal flight training, and discourage student starts.

The comments questioned the FAA’s proposed method of giving authorization to a relatively small group designated to process certificate applications. Instead, AOPA recommended opening up the processing of applications to all individuals who have access to the online Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Ratings Application (IACRA) process, and choose to become authorized.

AOPA recommended removing the mandatory two-year renewal of flight instructor certificates from the “triggering” events that would require a pilot to obtain a photo certificate. AOPA also called on the FAA to clarify proposed regulatory language making clear that instructor certificates will not have a photograph incorporated.

AOPA believes that at a time when the government is seeking cost-cutting measures to reduce the federal deficit, the FAA should not be pursuing regulations that are unnecessary and offer no new benefit, yet add to federal spending.