The New & Improved Student Pilot Certificate

As a student pilot or Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), you might have heard about the new changes for the student pilot certificate process.  With any change in aviation regulations, it is important that we examine them carefully.  


So, let’s start with the basics of obtaining your student pilot certificate.  As a student, you would have taken a trip to the aeromedical examiner to obtain your 3rd-Class Medical Certificate which then meant you could now solo – your 3rd Class Medical also doubled as your Student Pilot Certificate (SPC).  The rules are changing as of April 1st, 2016 to a new and improved process that I will break into the following sections: the application, flight privileges and future impacts.


The Application

According to, a student pilot certificate is not needed until you fly solo – you can start your flying lessons right away.   While this is not different than the previous rule, the medical certificate and the SPC are now two separate documents.  According to the, AMEs no longer will issue a combination medical certificate and student pilot certificate or accept an application for a student pilot certificate. An applicant must appear in person to apply for a student pilot certificate at a FSDO, through a DPE, with an ACR associated with a part 141 pilot school, or with a CFI.  While you do not have to obtain your medical certificate in order to start flying, you are still required to obtain it separately.  It is important to note that if you already have a paper SPC, you can use that until it expires – you are “grandfathered” into the process.

Once you, or your student, has applied for the certificate, it will take about 3 weeks to arrive in the mail – the IACRA application online should minimize the time it takes to arrive.  The IACRA application is vetted by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and when approved is sent to the student through the Civil Aviation Registry.   In addition, instead of a flimsy piece of paper, new applicants will now receive a plastic certificate, very similar to the ones received for Private Pilot and beyond.  If something happens to the certificate, a student can request a new certificate for a $2 fee.  There is speculation on how long it will take the TSA to vet applications, but the FAA still predicts an average of 3 weeks.


Flight Privileges

As I mentioned earlier, students are allowed to start flight training without having the actual piece of plastic, however, CFIs and students are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.  Additionally, “Receipt of a student pilot certificate is required prior to exercising the privileges of a student pilot certificate” (  In other words, you need the certificate to fly solo.

Another point of interest is that under this new rule, CFIs are only required to endorse the students’ logbooks – instead of certificates and logbooks.  For you seasoned students or pilots, you might remember the scribbled endorsements on your Student Pilot Certificate in addition to those in your logbook.  Now, all endorsements will be in one place near all of your own flight hour entries. 


Future Impacts for the Industry

Recently, I inquired about the effects of this new rule with a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE), Woody Minar – Minar is based out of Osceola, WI and has been giving check rides for the last 3 years in addition to being a seasoned pilot with several thousand hours.  Woody points out that “From a homeland security standpoint, the student pilot gets vetted by TSA at the beginning of the process instead of at the end. While the days of getting a private pilot through accelerated training or soloing on their eligible birthday are over, it shouldn't hinder their training process as long as TSA and FAA come through with their promise to get the plastic student pilot certificate in the mail in three weeks. The flight instructor will no longer need to endorse the logbook AND medical certificate, just the logbook which will simplify things.”

Additionally, Mark Baker, President of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), states that “AOPA will continue to monitor the implementation of these new regulations and work with the FAA to ensure students are not being held back from soloing and completing their flight training.”

As this rule is only a few weeks old, it’s hard to say what effect it will have on the industry and the number of new student pilot applicants.  However, I believe that allowing a student to receive dual training while waiting for the certificate to arrive is a great benefit.  As for a CFI, only endorsing logbooks makes the paperwork significantly easier without having to keep track of endorsing the medical certificate.  Additionally, not having to renew your student pilot certificate means you are able to finish your training without having to reapply.

Overall, I believe this new process for the SPC will allow students to navigate their first few months as a student pilot in a more efficient manner – CFIs will also appreciate few steps in giving endorsements to their students.  While this rule is very young, it will be interesting to see if any additional facets of Student Pilot rules change and evolve. 

Images courtesy of GoogleImages and the writer.