US proposes picture IDs for all pilots, students

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The nearly 850,000 certificated pilots and flight instructors in the US will have between four and five years to replace their plastic certificates with eight-year duration photo identification cards each priced at $22 or more under a new rule to be proposed by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on 19 November.

Fuelling the change is the US Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention law passed in 2004. The law requires the FAA to issue pilot certificates that, along with being resistant to tampering and fraud, must include a photograph and a biometric identifier (ID) "or any other unique identifier the FAA administrator considers necessary", according to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).

While the FAA is proposing only to have passport-quality photos on the certificates in the NPRM, the agency notes that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) "is considering" an unrelated rulemaking "to improve security vetting of airman certificate holders" that may later impact the pilot certificates.

The new rule would also require student pilots to obtain the photo IDs, and any pilots upgrading their certificates, for instance from private pilot to commercial pilot, would have to purchase a new ID as well.

Costs may end up being significantly higher for pilots. To receive a license pilots will either have to travel to one of the 96 Flight Standards District Offices in the US to verify their identity, or make an appointment with one of 2,700 FAA-designees worldwide, who can tag on an additional charge that the FAA has no control over. In addition, legislation currently in Congress would allow the agency to raise the license fee to as much as $50.

The FAA says that it will not recoup its costs at $22 per certificate. However in the economic analysis in the NPRM, the agency notes that it will spend $240 million over a 20yr period while pilots will spend $450 million.