Student Pilot and FAA Medical Certificates

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As a student pilot, you will need a Student Pilot Certificate at some point during your flight training program.  When you will need the student certificate will vary based upon the type of training that you are doing.

You may also need an FAA Medical Certificate.  The type of medical certificate you should obtain, if you should obtain one at all, depends on your flight training goals.

Your Student Pilot Certificate

Pilot CertificateYou will need a Student Pilot Certificate before your first solo; that wondrous time when your instructor has enough confidence in your ability to get out of the airplane and send you off by yourself.  When training under the general rules for flight training, often referred to as “Part 61 training,” you can obtain the certificate at any time prior to the solo.

If you are training under the more formalized rules for flight schools, referred to as “Part 141 training,” you must obtain your Student Pilot Certificate prior to enrolling in the flight curriculum for a Recreational certificate program or before enrolling in the solo flight phase of a Private pilot certification course.  Essentially, you need the Student Pilot Certificate before you can start a Recreational program and early in a Private program under 141.

Your Student Pilot Certificate is a standalone document that must be obtained using the FAA’s Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) system and through the assistance of the local FAA office (Flight Standards District Office or FSDO), a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE), an Airman Certification Representative (ACR) associated with a part 141 pilot school, or your own Certified Flight Instructor (CFI).

Before you meet with any of these individuals, you can and should go to IACRA to register and start the application process.

  1. Go to https://iacra.faa.gov and click the “Register” link near the upper right corner of the page.
  2. Select “Applicant” on the next page then review the Terms of Service (TOS) and click the “Agree to TOS and Continue>>” button to move on.
  3. Fill out your IACRA – User Profile Information as accurately as possible. It will be helpful if your name information closely matches the name on your photo id. Leave the “Airman Certificate Number” and “Date of Issuance” fields blank. Many pilots select “Do Not Use” regarding their social security number but this is up to you.
  4. After registering, login with your new credentials.
  5. Click the “Start New Application” button.
  6. The Application Type will be “Pilot” and the Pilot Certifications will be “Student Pilot.” Click the Start Application button.
  7. Fill in the information the Personal Information section and click the Save & Continue button.
  8. Submit the application and make an appointment with your instructor or another authorized individual.

When the time comes to meet for verification purposes, be sure to bring your unexpired driver’s license, passport, or other acceptable photo id to your meeting. You must apply in person with the authorized individual. Good instructors will likely do this free of charge as a part of their service to their clients provided that the clients take care of their part of IACRA before meeting for verification.

Student Pilot Certificates acquired under this process do not expire.

Your FAA Medical Certificate and Alternatives

The pursuit of most pilot certificates will require you to obtain and hold an FAA Medical Certificate prior to flying solo.

If you are pursuing a Sport Pilot Certificate and will only be flying solo in a Light Sport Airplane, you may be able to use your valid driver’s license as a testament to your acceptable health.  To exercise the option of using your driver’s license in place an FAA Medical Certificate, you must not have failed your most recent attempt at an FAA Medical Certificate or be under a medical suspension.  If you have never attempted to obtain an FAA Medical Certificate or you allowed your most recent medical to expire, the valid driver’s license may be an option for you.

If you are learning to fly in a glider, motorglider, or balloon, you will not need a medical.  You will simply need to be able to attest to the fact that you do not have any medical conditions that would preclude your safe operation of the aircraft in solo flight.

FAA Medical Certificate’s are issued by an FAA Designated Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). AME’s are physicians with a special interest in aviation safety and have training in aviation medicine.

If you have any condition that may be medically disqualifying or could slow your medical approval, do not visit your AME before meeting with and discussing your options with a knowledgeable instructor.  Alternatively, you can contact a resource like the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) to discuss your situation.  You can get a free 6 month membership as a Student Pilot.  They have experts available to help find your best route for success in the medical certification process.

Some conditions that can be disqualifying or could slow your medical approval include but are not limited to:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Nervous Disorders
  • History of Kidney Stones
  • Emotional or Mental Disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • Uncorrectable Vision
  • Certain Levels of Hearing Loss
  • History of Alcohol or Drug Dependence
  • Any condition that could impair your ability to operate an aircraft safely

If you would like further information on potentially disqualifying conditions, the standards for medical certification are contained in Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 67.  If 14 CFR Part 67 indicates that a condition will not allow you to obtain a medical certificate, all hope is not lost.  There may be an option to obtain a special issuance medical certificate or obtain a medical with certain operating limitations.  Discuss this with one of the previously mentioned sources before pushing forward with your examination.

If you are in good health and ready to obtain your FAA Medical Certificate, find an AME, schedule an appointment, and fill out your application on MedXPress before going to see the doctor.  Be truthful on this application, especially in the area of alcohol related driving offenses.  The FAA can and will check your answers against the National Driver Register database.  Falsification of facts can lead to fines and revocation of certificates.

You can find an AME using the FAA’s database found at https://www.faa.gov/pilots/amelocator/.

At some point in the process, you will be asked about the “Class” of medical you would like to apply for.  We will review the classes in a moment but you should plan to obtain the class of medical certificate required, for the certificate level you ultimately want.  This will tell you if you are medically qualified for that certificate.  Finding this out now is better than waiting until you have already spent thousands of dollars on training for a certificate that you ultimately may not be able to use.

A 1st Class medical is required when flight operations require an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate.  An ATP is required to act as the Pilot in Command (PIC) or Captain of a scheduled airliner.

A 2nd Class medical is required when flight operations require a Commercial Pilot certificate.  A Commercial certificate is required essentially to get paid to be a pilot.

A 3rd Class medical is required for all other flight operations that require an FAA Medical Certificate.  This includes Student Pilots pursuing a Recreational or Private certificate, Recreational and Private pilots, and most Flight Instructors.

For operations as a Student, Recreational, or Private Pilot, all classes of medical certificates are valid for 60 calendar months if you obtained the certificate prior to your 40th birthday.  If you obtained the medical on or after your 40th birthday, the certificate is valid for only 24 calendar months.

More detailed information about FAA Medical Certificate expirations can be found in the table below from the FAA via 14 CFR Part 61:

If you hold And on the date of
examination for your most recent medical certificate you were
And you are conducting an operation
requiring
Then your medical certificate expires, for that operation, at the end of the last day of the
(1) A first-class medical certificate (i) Under age 40 an airline transport pilot certificate 12th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(ii) Age 40 or older an airline transport pilot certificate 6th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(iii) Any age a commercial pilot certificate or an air traffic control tower operator certificate 12th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(iv) Under age 40 a recreational pilot certificate, a private pilot certificate, a flight instructor certificate (when acting as pilot in command or a required pilot flight crewmember in operations other than glider or balloon), a student pilot certificate, or a sport pilot certificate (when not using a U.S. driver’s license as medical qualification) 60th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(v) Age 40 or older a recreational pilot certificate, a private pilot certificate, a flight instructor certificate (when acting as pilot in command or a required pilot flight crewmember in operations other than glider or balloon), a student pilot certificate, or a sport pilot certificate (when not using a U.S. driver’s license as medical qualification) 24th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(2) A second-class medical certificate (i) Any age a commercial pilot certificate or an air traffic control tower operator certificate 12th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(ii) Under age 40 a recreational pilot certificate, a private pilot certificate, a flight instructor certificate (when acting as pilot in command or a required pilot flight crewmember in operations other than glider or balloon), a student pilot certificate, or a sport pilot certificate (when not using a U.S. driver’s license as medical qualification) 60th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(iii) Age 40 or older a recreational pilot certificate, a private pilot certificate, a flight instructor certificate (when acting as pilot in command or a required pilot flight crewmember in operations other than glider or balloon), a student pilot certificate, or a sport pilot certificate (when not using a U.S. driver’s license as medical qualification) 24th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(3) A third-class medical certificate (i) Under age 40 a recreational pilot certificate, a private pilot certificate, a flight instructor certificate (when acting as pilot in command or a required pilot flight crewmember in operations other than glider or balloon), a student pilot certificate, or a sport pilot certificate (when not using a U.S. driver’s license as medical qualification) 60th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(ii) Age 40 or older a recreational pilot certificate, a private pilot certificate, a flight instructor certificate (when acting as pilot in command or a required pilot flight crewmember in operations other than glider or balloon), a student pilot certificate, or a sport pilot certificate (when not using a U.S. driver’s license as medical qualification) 24th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.

 

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Paul Jurgens is a Chief Instructor at Sporty's Academy. He holds a multiengine ATP certificate with a Cessna Citation type rating along with commercial privileges in single-engine land and sea airplanes, gliders, and hot air balloons. Chief Jurgens holds instructor ratings for single & multiengine airplanes, instrument airplanes, & gliders. He also has instructing privileges in hot air balloons by virtue of his commercial certificate.