New Student Pilot Certificate Rules Prevent Solos on 16th Birthday

Flying the first solo flight on a pilot’s 16th birthday is a time-honored tradition. Drew Gryder

It’s a time-honored aviation tradition that suddenly appears on the brink of elimination.

New student pilot application requirements that take effect on April 1 will prevent new pilots from soloing on their 16th birthday. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is asking the FAA to remedy what it calls an “unfortunate consequence” of the new student pilot certificate process, which requires the applicant to be at least 16 years old yet prevents him or her from receiving a physical student pilot certificate on the student’s birthday.

The central problem with the new requirements is that applications will take time to process, meaning the earliest a student pilot could solo would be sometime after his or her 16th birthday when the physical plastic student pilot certificate arrives in the mail. Under the old requirements, an aviation medical examiner could issue a student pilot certificate on the spot.

AOPA is proposing that student pilots be allowed to apply for the certificate “no earlier than 30 days prior to their eligible birthday,” with the caveat that the certificate only becomes valid on the holder’s 16th birthday.

But 30 days might not be enough time since the new student pilot application requirements also call for a TSA background check. Nobody knows how long that will take.

What we do know is that unless the FAA acts to correct this process error, a celebrated aviation tradition is on the verge of falling by the wayside.


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