It seems that the FAA is suddenly making a lot of changes. A few months ago, we told you about the new Airman Certification Standards (ACS) that will replace the current Practical Test Standards (PTS.) I have no idea if this is an improvement, but at least one well-known Instructor, Rod Machdo, is not real happy about that change- you can see his comments here.
Another major change is about to happen- the process for getting your Student Pilot license is going to take considerably more time than the current hour or so with the Aviation Medical Examiner.
Starting April 1, 2016 (yes, next month), the AME will no longer issue your Student license with your medical. You will now be required to submit an application which can only be accepted by certain people designated by the FAA. Luckily, this includes any CFI. Once the application is submitted, it will be vetted by the TSA and then the FAA will issue the license- plastic, not paper. Supposedly this will take no more than 3 weeks.
So why are they doing this now? Apparently, it’s been a long time coming, and it actually makes sense, at least to the TSA. Congress has mandated that they do a background check on every student pilot, so they’re doing what they have been directed to do by their bosses. Personally, I understand the caution, though from a practical standpoint, I’m not sure if this will achieve their stated goal. At any rate, it’s the new procedure we have to live with. It doesn’t stop a new pilot from taking instruction, they just have to have that license when they solo, and most people don’t solo in three weeks.
Of course, three weeks is the stated goal. I would suggest that it’s automatically issued after three weeks to give TSA a little incentive to develop an efficient process, but since no one at that agency calls me to get my suggestions, we just have to hope that they can get that done as promised.
On the plus side, student pilots will be getting a plastic license and there is no expiration date. Also, there’s no fee, and we have the AOPA to thank for both of these developments. If the TSA does everything as planned, this should be doable.