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Ensuring a Time-Honored Legacy and an Unforgettable Day

By Sean Elliott, EAA Vice President of Advocacy and Safety

May 18, 2017 - About a year ago, EAA became aware of an FAR Part 61 regulatory change that all but eliminated the ability to obtain a student pilot certificate prior to a first-time-eligible “key” birthday (14 for glider and 16 for airplane). For many people growing up in an aviation family, this is a time-honored tradition. It is a milestone forever remembered by many pilots and has a significant, positive impact on learning to fly and one’s outlook on life. EAA could not let this regulatory change stand.

On a trip to Washington, D.C., I met with the manager of the FAA’s General Aviation and Commercial Division, the office that owns this rule and policy. He was quick to agree that this needed a fix but said trying to undertake a rulemaking solution would take too long. But, I thought, what about drafting an exemption petition as a means of solving the problem? Three months later, the FAA approved EAA’s petition and released a notice that changed the policy and enabled student pilot certificate applications prior to those key birthdays.

Fast forward to April of this year: I find myself in the position of using the new policy to see my own 13-year-old make his first solo on his 14th birthday. What I discovered was that the FAA process created in response to EAA’s petition works, but has some limitations. You must apply within 90 days of the 14th birthday in order to complete the security vetting. Once the vetting is complete, the file stays with an FAA records examiner and cannot be issued until the day of the 14th birthday. The process is manual and must have human intervention.

As we awoke on the big day, the weather was forecast to be nice first thing in the morning and then become windy. I called the Airmen Certification Information and Assistance hotline as soon as it opened (7:30 a.m. CDT). The examiner who answered the phone was very understanding and took personal action to ensure we had an e-mailed temporary certificate within 15 minutes. She saved the day through a personal touch and intervention! I commend the good folks at the FAA who made the difference for my family and this very important milestone.

While the certificate is now at least available, we have some work to do on the FAA process. What if your child’s birthday falls on a weekend when offices are closed? In our case, it did not, and the staff at the FAA was superb in a fast execution and issuance of the temporary certificate. It is a certificate process, however, that should be automated and available at midnight Zulu time of the key birthday.

I now know the feeling of watching my son fly his first solo on his 14th birthday in an ASK-21. It was an unforgettable moment and aviation is at the heart of it all. Let’s make it happen for more families.

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