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New Student Pilot Certificate Process

Source:, By James Williams

On April 1, 2016, the FAA made a significant change for people starting out on their pathway to pilothood. Prior to this change, most student pilot certificates were issued as a part of the initial medical exam. As the certificates changed from paper to plastic and more vetting was required for pilot certificates, change was essential. Consequently, the FAA developed a rule that would meet new requirements while keeping the process relatively easy for prospective pilots. An added benefit to the student pilot is that the new plastic certificate no longer expires. Also instructors may now simply place student pilot endorsements in the student’s logbook like all other endorsements.

So Who Can Issue a Student Pilot Certificate?

In keeping with this concept, the FAA has designated several individuals or organizations who can help with issuance. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is an FAA Aviation Safety Inspector or Aviation Safety Technician. The FAA has also allowed Certificated Flight Instructors (CFIs) and Designated Pilot Examiners (DPEs) to enter the application into the Integrated Airmen Certification and/or Rating Application (IACRA) or file the paper FA A Form 8710-1. A CFI must be registered in IACRA as a “recommending instructor” in order to accept an application for a Student Pilot certificate. Still another option is an Airman Certification Representative (ACR) associated with a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 141 pilot school.

What Does the Instructor Do?

The CFI, DPE, or ACR is responsible for making sure that the applicant meets the eligibility requirements laid out in 14 CFR section 61.83, as well as verify the applicant’s identity. The instructor is also responsible for verifying that the applicant is English proficient. The FA A recommends using Advisory Circular (AC) 60-28 and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) website to prepare for this process. If the applicant has a known medical issue that would require a limitation on the Student Pilot certificate, that applicant should be referred to the jurisdictional FSDO.

What Happens Next?

Once the application is submitted, the FAA’s Civil Aviation Registry must process the application within three weeks. That counts the time from when the FAA receives the
application to when the plastic certificate goes in the mail. As you are required to have the certificate in your possession to solo, we recommend getting your application in at least a month before you expect to solo. In many cases the process can go faster, but that is dependent on the number of certificate applications at the registry.

One last thing to remember: previously, the student pilot certificate was combined with your initial medical certificate in most cases. Now that there is a separate plastic certificate, you will still need to make sure you also have a current medical certificate before you solo if the operation requires one.

Learn More

Part 61 Subpart C Student Pilot -

James Williams is FAA Safety Briefing’s associate editor and photo editor. He is also a pilot and ground instructor.

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