New Certificates

Do you have a new rating? Congratulations. But be prepared. Pilots are currently experiencing long delays and other problems in getting their new certificates back from the FAA. While this is not a new problem, predating the September 11th attacks by many months at least, it seems to be getting worse.

Last April I added my single-engine seaplane rating at Jack Brown's Seaplane Base in Winter Haven, Florida. The flight school's proprietor and FAA- designated examiner, Jon Brown, issued me my temporary certificate, good for 120 days after its issuance. He then filed the paperwork electronically through the FAA's automated computer filing program. I promptly put my temporary certificate in my wallet and waited for the FAA to mail me my permanent ticket. I then made the mistake of waiting until my 120-day temporary certificate had expired before inquiring about the delay. After snaking my way through the phone maze at the Oklahoma City certification branch of the FAA, I spoke with a friendly staffer who gave me the startling news that not only was my permanent certificate not in the mail, but the FAA's computer showed no record of my having ever added the Aircraft Single Engine Sea rating.

What to do? The FAA staffer advised me to call Jack Brown's and have them "reconstruct" the file they sent. I was worried. Would I be without a certificate for an extended period due to what I assumed was a freak screwup? I picked up the phone and called Jack Brown's. What I learned was far from reassuring. Not only did my plight turn out not to be an unusual event; it was, as far as Brown's was concerned, business as usual for the FAA these days. Brown's quickly researched the issue: they had indeed filed my certificate electronically and then, a couple of days later, followed up by sending the paperwork, by return receipt mail, to the FAA. But what could they do for me now? Lots, as it turned out. Brown's immediately called the Flight Standards Office in Orlando, explained the nature of the problem to them and requested that a new temporary certificate be sent to me. Thirty-six hours later, it showed up in my mailbox. Thanks, Orlando.

The FAA is aware of the problem and has reportedly added a position in Oklahoma City to deal with certificate delays. Why and how the record of my certificate disappeared remains a mystery. I wish that I could say that ends the story, but I still haven't received my permanent certificate. I'll keep watching the mail, but this time I won't wait until my temporary expires before I dial up Ok City to see how my permanent certificate, if indeed there exists a record of it yet, is coming along. While being patient is still a virtue, for pilots awaiting a permanent certificate from the FAA these days, being proactive is a better idea.


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