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FAA Form 8710 is your ticket to the private pilot certificate

There's an old saying that when the weight of the paperwork equals the weight of the airplane, we can fly.

But some of that paperwork is important because it confirms that the airplanes we fly are ship shape—all required inspections are complete ample fuel and oil are on board, and the laws that protect both pilots and members of the public are satisfied. In fact, it's our responsibility as pilots in command (PIC) under the federal aviation regulations.

As much trouble as this mound of airworthiness and maintenance documentation might seem to be, we can take comfort that it all serves a useful purpose: to show that the airplane is legal to fly. The same goes for our pilot paperwork. It shows that we, as pilots, are qualified to legally fly as well. Part 61 of the federal aviation regulations also specifies that you must carry a current picture ID when you fly.

For most student pilots, the whole paperwork process starts with the FAA Form 8710-1. Part 61 specifies the minimum eligibility, knowledge, and experience requirements for various certificates and ratings. Once those requirements are met, applicants complete Form 8710, which confirms that the necessary preliminaries are complete. It is reviewed and signed by your flight instructor. Then come the practical test and issuance of the temporary certificate by your designated pilot examiner.

The paperwork is then forwarded to the FAA's Airman Certification Branch in Oklahoma City and, after final processing, a permanent pilot certificate or rating is issued. (An exception is the flight instructor certificate, which must be renewed every two years -- each time with the submission of a new Form 8710.)

The 8710, formally titled Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application, has two pages. Page 1 contains information identifying the applicant, the basis on which the applicant has applied for the certificate or rating, and a record of the applicant's flying time to demonstrate that the necessary experience has been acquired. The applicant certifies the accuracy of the information at the bottom of the first page.

Flight instructors renewing their certificates have a couple of blocks on the back side to complete, but you as an applicant for a certificate or rating can forget about Page 2. That's the responsibility of your flight instructor, your flight examiner, and the FAA processors.

One item to note is in the middle of the bottom section of the form. Here's where you prove that you are you. A current (not expired) proof of identity is required. A driver's license, government ID card, or one of a number of other "approved" identity documents is presented, but the person actually certifying the form will ensure that your identity is confirmed. Not your worry, except that you've got to make sure that you have a current photo ID when submitting application -- and also when you fly.

What's the problem?

"So I left off one little item on the form?" Well, what is the big deal about making a little mistake on a certificate or rating application?

Here's the big deal: The 8710 is a legal document. "Assumptions" can't be made about legal documents. They could very well catch up with you in court! It's been known to happen. In today's litigious environment, identities and certifications are significant subjects requiring care and attention.

Small errors and applicant omissions often seem inconsequential to us, so why can't the feds just correct them on the spot instead of rejecting the application and making us go through all the trouble to redo it?

Try this for an explanation.

Let's take the simple failure to check Block G in Section I, for example. Block G asks, "Do you read, speak, write, and understand the English language?" Data entry specialists in Oklahoma City, where all 8710s are processed, cannot make assumptions that the applicant does in fact, read, speak, write, and understand English, even though the examiner during a practical test must determine that. In the absence of a reliable way to verify the entry, the 8710 is disapproved. The certification of Block G -- or any other block on the form -- could become an issue after an accident. That's why there is no room for assumptions in the certification process.

What may seem like making mountains out of molehills isn't so inconsequential after all when you additionally realize that mistakes cost us all a lot of money.

According to Paul Maenza, program manager for pilot examiner standardization at the FAA's Mike Monroney Center in Oklahoma City, approximately 128,000 8710s were processed in 2002. Of that number, 12.5 percent (16,000) were disapproved.

At a cost of $300 to $500 per disapproved application, the tab to U.S. taxpayers for omissions or incorrectly completed 8710s in a typical year is a staggering $4.8 million to $8 million.

Completing and processing the application

There is really no mystery about how to fill out the 8710. Instructions accompany every form. Applicants for years have used this manual system to apply for certificates and ratings.

In the era when manual completion of the paper form was the only way to apply, sympathetic examiners made it a practice to carry a bottle of correction fluid to fix mistakes -- and many still do.

Then, in the 1990s, ACRA (Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application) software appeared on the scene. It allows examiners to process computer-printed applications to reduce errors.

In the case of both systems, mistakes often cost 120 or more days for return, correction, and final approval of applications.

Very recently IACRA (the Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application) was instituted. It involves online completion and processing. Its principal advantage is that it interrupts the process whenever a data entry mistake is made. Although it currently can be used only by airmen residing in certain FAA regions, by September it is scheduled to be available online nationwide.

Other advantages of IACRA, as explained in an April 2004 FAA letter, include:

  • Ability to access it anywhere with an Internet connection.
  • A single tracking number is permanently assigned to each airman.
  • Your time to complete an application is reduced.
  • Your input data is auto-checked to reduce potential errors and the number of rejected applications.
  • Digital signatures ensure that data is captured and archived, and the signature is validated.
  • The overall certification process time is significantly reduced.
  • The uniform interpretation of airman certification regulations automatically ensures that the applicant meets regulatory and policy requirements.

IACRA software cross-checks each entry against minimum requirements stored in the database and rejects any invalid entry.

How to avoid errors now

There are several common errors that plague applicants when they complete forms manually.

Regardless of whether you are a flight instructor or a student pilot prepping for your private pilot practical test, the same errors seem to persist. According to the FAA, here are some common errors and tips for avoiding them:

  • Review the "Instructions for Completing FAA Form 8710-1"-it comes with the form-and follow the instructions to the letter.
  • Regardless of what your current pilot certificate says, make sure to enter four digits for the year when dates are required (i.e., "2004," not "04"). Some certification documents currently list only two digits for the year.
  • Enter your legal name (Block A). The computer is looking for three names. If yours is long and complex, be prepared to explain it, but put it down. If you have no middle initial or middle name, enter "NMN" or "NMI" as the instructions specify. Don't forget to include "Jr." or other suffix if appropriate.
  • Do not leave "Social Security Number" (Block B) blank. Your SSN will not be used on your certificate; it will bear a random number that will be issued to you. The FAA would like to use your SSN to help maintain your pilot records, which are maintained in alphabetical order and cross-referenced by Social Security and airman certificate number. Submission of your Social Security number is voluntary; if you choose not to provide it, state "Do not use" or print "None" in Block B.
  • Again, make sure to use eight digits for your date of birth (Block C) and all other dates (i.e., 01-22-1983 instead of January 22, 1983).
  • Block E: Use a street address. If you live on a rural postal route or if your residence has no "address," a "map" must accompany the application clearly indicating where you live.
  • Enter your height in whole inches in Block H. Don't use fractions. The processing computer will reject your application if height is not within two inches of what you recorded in a previous application, but that is not commonly known.
  • Block M asks, "Do you now hold or have you ever held an FAA pilot certificate?" Check yes, especially for private pilot applicants. Many forget that the student pilot certificate is an FAA pilot certificate!
  • Make sure all of the applicable minimums of Section III, "Record of Pilot Time," are met. If they aren't, the application cannot be processed.
  • Complete every block of the form. Do not leave any block blank.
  • Cross-check that the date of the "Instructor's recommendation" (Page Two; back side) section of your application is within 60 days of the date upon which you take your practical test.

All of these pitfalls can be avoided by simply reading the instructions and following them. Resolve to avoid errors when you next complete FAA Form 8710, your ticket to a pilot certificate.

Wally Miller is president of an aviation training, consulting, and marketing firm in Monument, Colorado. He is a Gold Seal CFI who has been instructing for more than 30 years and flying for more than 40.

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