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Regulatory Brief: Photo Pilot Certificates

Regulatory Brief: Photo Pilot Certificates

The issue

Photo pilot certificates

On Nov. 19, 2010, the FAA published the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) “Photo Requirements for Pilot Certificates.” This is simply a notice of proposed rulemaking, so the rule may differ from this proposal based on comments received to the docket and may not be published as a final rule for quite a while. Comments are due by Feb. 17, 2011.


In the late 1980s, drug enforcement laws set out requirements that the FAA support federal, state, and local agencies by denying access to the National Airspace System to any person(s) who would threaten national security by committing criminal acts. In part, the law required that the FAA issue new, more secure pilot certificates. This proposed rule however, was never finalized.

The terrorist acts in 2001 prompted passage of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), enacted on Nov. 19, 2001, which called for the under secretary of Transportation to consider a requirement for a photo ID pilot certificate. In order to provide a simple, inexpensive, timely means to positively identify pilots, AOPA asked the FAA to change the rules to require pilots to carry a government-issued photo ID along with their pilot certificate. As a result, the FAA changed 14 CFR 61.3(a): Requirement for Certificates, Ratings, and Authorizations, which requires all flight crewmembers of an aircraft to carry a pilot certificate and government-issued photo identification.

The terrorist attacks also prompted the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA), signed into law in December 2004.

The IRTPA requires the FAA to issue improved pilot certificates that:
(1) are resistant to tampering, alteration, or counterfeiting;
(2) include a photograph of the individual to whom the certificate is issued; and
(3) are capable of accommodating a digital photograph, a biometric identifier, or any other unique identifier the FAA administrator considers necessary

In an effort to enhance the pilot certificate the FAA began issuing security-enhanced airman certificates to the nation’s 650,000 active pilots in July 2003. On Feb. 28, 2008, the FAA published the Drug Enforcement Assistance final rule that required all pilots, except student pilots, to obtain a plastic certificate by March 31, 2010. The plastic certificates are of high quality plastic card stock and have micro printing that contains certain words and phrases, a hologram, and an UV-sensitive layer to resist tampering, altering, and counterfeiting. This final rule met several of the requirements of the IRTPA but did not require a photo or biometric identifier on the certificate.

Currently, the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is engaged in ongoing efforts to improve identification, credentialing, and security vetting of persons involved in transportation (49 USC 44903). The TSA is considering a rulemaking to improve security vetting of airman certificate holders and applicants for airman certificates. Also, AOPA and other industry stakeholders have begun a dialog with the TSA to establish a universally recognized secure identification that facilitates access at airports. Universal access would provide a tremendous benefit to those pilots traveling to airports regulated under Transportation Security Regulation 1542 (i.e. commercial airline serviced airports).

Summary of the proposed rulemaking

The NPRM is proposing several regulatory changes with regard to the pilot certificate including:

  • Making a requirement that a person must carry a pilot certificate with a current photo to exercise the privileges of the pilot certificate
  • Requiring student pilots to obtain a plastic certificate with photo
  • Modifying the application process and the fee structure for pilot certificates

Implementation schedule

The NPRM proposes a five-year phased implementation schedule. There are two methods for this phased implementation schedule—“trigger-based” and “non-trigger-based.”

  • “Trigger-based” means that any person interacting with the FAA during the implementation period would be required to apply for a photo pilot certificate. Examples: applying for a new pilot certificate or rating, or student pilot certificate. Anyone obtaining a new flight instructor certificate or renewing a flight instructor certificate would be required to apply for a pilot certificate with photo for the underlying pilot certificate (ie: commercial, ATP, or sport pilot certificate)
  • “Non-trigger-based” means that the pilot certificate must be converted to a photo pilot certificate in a three-, four-, or five-year period depending on the type of certificate
    • Airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate would have three years after the final rule becomes effective to obtain a pilot certificate with photo
    • Commercial pilot certificate would have four years
    • Private, recreational, or sport pilot certificate holder would have five years

Flight instructor certificates will not be required to include a photo; however, a pilot obtaining a new flight instructor certificate or renewing a flight instructor certificate would be required to apply for a pilot certificate with photo for the underlying pilot certificate (i.e.: ATP, commercial, or sport pilot certificate).

Pilots who do not obtain a certificate with photo during the appropriate period would not be able to exercise pilot privileges after the cut-off date until they obtain the new photo certificate.

Methods to obtain photo pilot certificate

In person at an FSDO or other FAA designee
A pilot would be required to appear in person to either an FSDO or any authorized FAA-designee (such as a knowledge testing center or designated pilot examiner (DPE)) to have his or her photo and identification validated whenever a photo is required as part of the application for purposes of identity verification. There are 96 FSDOs in the U.S. and approximately 2,700 designees who would be handling the application and photo verification process.

Examples include:

  • Applying for a photo pilot certificate for the first time
  • If the photo would expire within 90 days of the application
  • A pilot changing vital information on the certificate, such as name, date of birth, citizenship, or gender
  • A pilot who upgrades his or her certificate or adds a rating

By mail or via FAA website
A pilot who wants to add or update the photo on a certificate, apply to replace a lost or destroyed certificate with photo, or submit a change of address will be able to do so by submitting a paper photo with a paper 8710-1 Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application form or through a Web-based Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application (IACRA) form. IACRA is an Internet-based database program providing a fully-electronic method of applying for an airman certificate or rating. Although the FAA is currently prepared to accept only a hard copy of a photo, the FAA anticipates accepting a digital photo. IACRA can accommodate submission of digital images.

Although not required by regulation, the pilot could request a replacement certificate when making the change of address. When requesting a replacement pilot certificate with photo in these situations, the pilot must have a photo on file that does not expire within 90 days of the application.

Guidelines for photos

The guidelines for the photo would be consistent with Department of State guidelines for passport photos—2-by-2-inch photo, unretouched, in color, includes only the applicant, front view of the applicant’s head (including hair) that covers more than 50 percent but not more than 75 percent of the total area of the photo, plain light-colored background, with the applicant in normal street attire and must have been taken within the last six months.

Photo expiration date

The actual pilot certificate would not expire; however under the proposal, the photo would expire after eight years. A pilot would not be able to exercise the privilege of the certificate after the photo expiration date.

Issuance timing

Issuance of a pilot certificate with photo could take up to six to eight weeks.

Student pilot certificates

Student pilot certificates would no longer be issued by an aviation medical examiner (AME) or designated pilot examiner (DPE) under the proposal. Student pilots would still be required to obtain a medical certificate from an AME prior to solo; however they may not solo without also obtaining a student pilot certificate from the FAA Airmen Certification Branch (AFS-760).

“Because the student pilot certificate would be issued by the FAA’s Airmen Certification Branch instead of by Aviation Safety Inspectors or FAA designees, student pilots, instructors, and pilot schools should plan accordingly for the additional time it would take to receive a plastic student pilot certificate with photo. At this time, the FAA estimates that it could take up to 6 to 8 weeks for the FAA to issue a student pilot certificate.”

Currently, a student pilot certificate expires either 24 or 60 calendar months after issuance depending on the age of the student pilot or on the rating sought. Because of the proposed change in procedure to obtain a student pilot certificate, the FAA proposes to issue student pilot certificates that do not expire.

Fee structure

In the NPRM, the FAA proposes that the maximum fee (charged directly by the FAA) will be $22 until such time as the FAA Reauthorization bill (H.R. 915) passes. If enacted, the fee for issuing an airman certificate would be set at $50 and for issuing a replacement airman certificate at $25.

Designees would charge a fee, in addition to the fee charged by the FAA, to accept and verify the applications. This fee will likely vary depending on the designee.

The FAA estimates that the 20-year recordkeeping and reporting burden equals $387,460,624 total cost.

Facsimile temporary replacement certificates

The FAA proposes to leave the facsimile provision unchanged in FAR 61.29(e). Currently § 61.29(e) allows a person to obtain a facsimile airman certificate if the original certificate is lost or destroyed. The FAA Airmen Certification Branch issues facsimile certificates so that an airman may continue to exercise privileges until a replacement pilot certificate is issued. This facsimile is valid for 60 days. The replacement of a pilot certificate with photo would take up to 6 to 8 weeks during which time a pilot effectively would be grounded. The FAA has concluded that grounding a pilot for an extended time period is unnecessary.

Updated November 24, 2010