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Photos Will Soon be Required on Pilot Certificates


Last Thurday, the FAA announced a proposal that would require photos on pilot certificates, as well as other higher-security measures.

It is a move that was ordered by the government in 2004, intended to guard against terrorists getting through airport security. One congressman who helped write the new law, Rep. John Mica (R – Fla), wrote a letter to the TSA, FAA, and Homeland Security Department demanding an explanation for their noncompliance with the law, citing that “It is absolutely astounding that DHS, TSA and FAA could, after six years to implement the act, still achieve such an incredible level of incompetence.”

Under the proposal, a brand new pilot certificate would be valid for eight years. At the end of eight years pilots would be required to get a new certificate and update their photo. If it is finalized, different pilots would have different deadlines to get one of the new enhanced certificates:

  • Pilots with existing commercial certificates would have 4 years to comply.
  • Pilots with airline transport ratings would have 3 years to comply.
  • Private/recreational pilots would have 5 years to comply.

One potential problem is that unlike DMVs for motor vehicle operators, the FAA doesn’t have a nationwide network of offices for pilots to have their photos taken conveniently.

The government is only now moving to enforce the law drafted in 2004, although immediately after the law took effect the FAA began requiring pilots to carry official photo ID in addition to their pilot’s license. But besides the new photos, pilot certificates would now be required to be made of plastic, include holograms or UV-sensitive layers to guard against forgery or alteration, and be capable of storing biometric information. In other words, they would be embedded with microchips that could potentially store fingerprints, iris scans, or other personal data in the future.

The law doesn’t say the licenses are required to contain biometric data, just that they must be capable of doing so. They would most likely be embedded with microchips capable of storing fingerprints, iris scans or other personal data that could be used to verify a person’s identity.

This is not the first time photo IDs would be required in aviation. Before the FAA was created in 1958, “Airman Identification Cards” were required by the Civil Aeronautics Administration. These cards included not only a photo, but a set of fingerprints as well.

Although the changes to pilot certificates would be considerable, some people feel the changes would not necessarily increase security all that much. Andrew Sullivan, a Dallas aviation security expert, states that while photos and biometric information would be helpful, their absence doesn’t create a significant gap in safety.

At many airports, especially large ones, flight crews are already required to show TSA officials a company photo ID, and need to show identification to board planes or to step out onto the tarmac.

The FAA is interested in hearing your comments on the new changes. They are accepting feedback on the proposed requirements until February 17 next year.

We at Air Ambulance Weekly would also like to hear your opinions. What do you think of these impending changes?

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Your thoughts are welcome.

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