Changes to Student Pilot Certificate Issuance – OPINION, Updated

This post was updated on Saturday, January 16th after being posted earlier in the week. Edits appear later in post.

Today the FAA made significant changes to the way a potential pilot (student) goes about obtaining a student pilot certificate. How do I know the changes were significant? Three reasons:

1. It was a “big” story on many aviation news websites

2. A lot of people in the aviation circles on social media were complaining about it…

3. I got an email from my FAA safety program manager (by virtue of my being an FAA Safety Representative) with an ALL CAPS subject

So combine those three together and there you have it, a big story. As many regular readers of this blog know, I stick to a content calendar and schedule. Often times I have posts planned a month or more in advance, today is a little different. This is already an odd week with two posts scheduled as opposed to the usual single post per week. Watch this space on Saturday for a really cool announcement by the way! But anyways, I think a change of this magnitude requires a special post.

Here is a quick, admittedly probably incomplete, account of how it has worked previously for a student pilot to make their first solo flight versus the new way it is going to happen…

Previously, a student pilot would advance in their training, and complete a presolo written examination, which is corrected to 100% as opposed to big graded to 100%. At the same time, the prospective pilot would visit an aviation medical examiner (AME) for a medical certificate and student pilot certificate, printed on the same piece of paper. At the appropriate time, this certificate would be endorsed (along with the student’s logbook) and the student would be sent on the greatest ride of their life, their first solo flight!

Now the student does all of the same things except they must also obtain a student pilot certificate separately. The AME’s will no longer be issuing the student pilot certificates… The certificates must be applied for, probably by way of a complicated form and 3 weeks or so later a plastic student pilot certificate, very similar to existing pilot certificates, will arrive in the mail.

This new process isn’t perfect, it can cause a delay for students who rapidly advance through their training. However, I strongly opposes programs like the ‘one week to solo’ concept, I think there is something to be said for being a part of the aviation culture for a while, you learn that way. But anyways, this is actually a good sign… You have to look beyond the obvious annoyance for new student pilots who will not be able to get their student pilot certificates immediately anymore. This process removes the AME from the process of issuing a student pilot certificate. Gee… I wonder why the FAA would do that? Was it overly difficult and costly for AME’s to print a little more on the sheet of paper? No… So then why would the FAA remove the AME’s from the process…

Oh, hello, maybe it is because they are preparing for the fact that student pilots (the majority anyways) won’t have to visit the AME because 3rd class medical reform is coming… Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner! This is a good sign, the FAA is thinking ahead and getting ready, we’re getting there, so calm down…

New students having to wait 3 weeks for their student pilot certificate isn’t going to prevent that person from learning to fly, no way… So let’s get on board and support these changes. Plus, since a flight instructor will be able to process these applications for student pilot certificates, the process can now be seamless. Whew a person signs up for flight lessons the application can be completed and submitted immediately by the flight instructor. 99% of the time the certificate will arrive well ahead of the time it is needed for the student to exercise the privileges of said certificate.


Now that a few days have gone by, I’ve done some actual research beyond my opinion piece above. I did this in the interest of providing as much accurate content beyond my own opinion so it was important for me to update this post. As a result, what I have found is that while some of my thinking may have been wishful, I stand by my ultimate point… This change isn’t going to prevent new students from learning to fly and in reality it makes an improvement on the learning to fly process. 

This change is not the FAA removing the AME from the student pilot certificate process in preparation for impending 3rd class medical reform, but it does ultimately do that. This change, effective April 1st of this year, is actually the result of a 2010 Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) by the FAA. A true indicator of how long regulatory changes take in the current state of the FAA/federal government.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), a group that my support for has continued to grow since I opted to pay more for a Premium Membership last year, provided a great chart showing the differences before and after the rule goes into effect (below). AOPA/FAA is also recommending that flight schools and CFIs make perspective student pilots aware of these requires as early in the training as possible so that the requirements do not cause an obstacle for the student during their training and they can plan accordingly.

Student Pilot Certificates - Final Rule (Chart)

-Fly safe, @MTElia1B9

Editor’s Note: I really like the new-look AOPA logo, which I’m told came along with the New Year. Very cool! Good work AOPA!


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