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FAA withdraws proposal to require plastic pilot certificatesFAA withdraws proposal to require plastic pilot certificates

FAA withdraws proposal to require plastic pilot certificates
Will "reexamine" congressional mandate for photos on certificates

The FAA has withdrawn a proposed rule that would have required pilots to replace their paper certificates with upgraded, counterfeit-resistant plastic certificates. Just before the 90-day Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review period expired, the FAA pulled back the proposal, saying it needed to reevaluate the plan because of a "new" congressional requirement for a picture on the pilot's certificate.

But that requirement shouldn't have been much of a surprise. Congress has been asking for photos on pilot certificates for more than a decade.

Of course, AOPA has supported putting photos on pilot certificates even longer than that. "After all, pilots are proud of their accomplishment and have told AOPA for years that they'd like something more substantial and individual, with their picture on it. The tattered piece of paper that was the norm for so many years just didn't cut it," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs. "And in the post-9/11 environment, a photo on a pilot's certificate is viewed by many as a security enhancement." (The FAA began issuing improved plastic certificates, without a photo, two years ago. To apply for a new plastic certificate, click here.)

Both Congress and the 9/11 Commission thought photo pilot certificates would improve security. Congress directed the FAA toward issuing photo certificates in the legislation establishing the Transportation Security Administration, and again in October 2004, with the law implementing recommendations from the 9/11 Commission Report.

In that latest law, Congress said the FAA should start issuing upgraded, counterfeit-resistant pilot certificates with photos by this October. And while it wasn't required, Congress also suggested that the FAA include biometric data, such as a fingerprint or retina scan.

AOPA worked closely with key members of Congress to make sure that the new photo requirement would not impose an undue burden on general aviation pilots. Thanks to AOPA's advocacy, Congress told the FAA that it could use designees to process the new certificates "to the extent feasible in order to minimize the burdens on pilots."

That means that if the FAA chooses to, it could have aviation medical examiners (AMEs) take the pilot's photo as part of the medical examination and forward it to the agency to include on a new certificate.

When will that happen? Well, Congress first directed the FAA to issue pilot certificates with photos in 1988, so it may come down to whether Congress is going to hold the agency's feet to the fire.

March 7, 2005

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