FAA Phasing Out Paper Certificates

 - January 25, 2007, 4:24 AM

The FAA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking last month that will require pilots to replace their paper certificates with upgraded, counterfeit-resistant plastic certificates within two years after the rule becomes final.

Five years after the final rule becomes effective, certain other paper airmen certificates, such as those of flight engineers and mechanics, may no longer be used to exercise the privileges authorized by those certificates. Student pilots would not be affected.

In addition, those who transfer ownership of U.S.-registered aircraft would have five days from the transaction to notify the FAA Aircraft Registry. Those who apply for aircraft registration would have to include their printed or typed name with their signature.

According to the agency, these changes come in response to concerns raised in the FAA Drug Enforcement Assistance Act. The changes are intended to upgrade the quality of data and documents to assist federal, state and local agencies in enforcing the nation’s drug laws.

In addition, in October 2004 Congress implemented recommendations from the 9/11 Commission Report that included a directive to the FAA to start issuing pilot certificates that include a photo ID within six months after the bill becomes law. President Bush signed this Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Act into law on Dec. 17, 2004.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 prompted the FAA to act on a proposed rule that was initially published in the late 1980s but never finalized. 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 anyone who would threaten national security by committing criminal acts. In part, the law required that the FAA issue new, more secure, pilot certificates.

The current photo ID requirement became effective Oct. 28, 2002. Pilots are required to carry photo identification acceptable to the FAA Administrator when exercising the privileges of a pilot certificate.

Additionally, pilots are required to present photo identification when requested by the administrator, an authorized representative of the Safety Board or Transportation Security Administration or a law enforcement officer.

In July 2003, the FAA began issuing new, security-enhanced, airman certificates to the nation’s 650,000 active pilots. The new credit card-size certificates are made from plastic and incorporate new security features, such as a hologram of the FAA seal. They replace the existing paper airman certificates, which can be easily damaged.

The certificate is currently issued to all new and existing airmen as they achieve higher levels or additional ratings and if the airman requests it. It is also used to replace certificates that have been lost or damaged. According to the FAA, close to 500,000 of the new airman certificates have been issued.

All pilots can voluntarily request a plastic airmen certificate online, and they can keep their old paper certificate. Ordering a new certificate costs $2, but if an airman wants the FAA to remove a social security number from the certificate or its records, the plastic certificate is free.