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Allow solos on 16th birthday, AOPA says

Drew Gryder of Hampton, Georgia, soloed three aircraft on his sixteenth birthday. AOPA is working to ensure student pilots can continue to solo on their sixteenth birthdays after April 1.

AOPA is asking the FAA to remedy an “unfortunate consequence” of new procedures for issuing student pilot certificates that—as worded in a new rule that goes into effect April 1—precludes student pilots from soloing on their sixteenth birthday.

When the new student pilot application requirements (SPAR) take effect on April 1, it will no longer be possible to obtain a combined student pilot certificate and medical certificate from an aviation medical examiner. Student pilots will have to apply for their certificates through their certified flight instructor or other authorized individuals.

The person processing the application must ensure that the student’s eligibility requirements—including a provision that the applicant be “at least 16 years of age for other than the operation of a glider or balloon”—are met.

AOPA is concerned that the opportunity for a sixteenth birthday solo will go by the boards because the application must then be sent on to the FAA. Although AOPA is monitoring the processing time, about a three-week wait is expected for the certificate to be issued and returned to the applicant, according to an advisory circular recently issued to explain the new rule.

“One unfortunate consequence of the SPAR Rule is that student pilots will no longer be able to solo on their 16th birthday,” wrote Justin Barkowski, AOPA director of regulatory affairs, in a March 23 letter to the FAA, requesting that the agency correct the rule’s negative impact.

As a remedy, AOPA suggested that the FAA consider implementing a procedure allowing student pilots to apply for the certificate no earlier than 30 days prior to their eligible birthday. The FAA could then issue a certificate with a limitation similar to that which aviation medical examiners currently place on combined medical and student pilot certificates in such instances, noting that the certificate is not valid until the date of the sixteenth birthday.

“In any case, AOPA urges the FAA to restore the ability for a student pilot to solo on his or her 16th birthday, whether through rulemaking, revision to current guidance, or otherwise,” Barkowski wrote. “Soloing in an aircraft represents the first pinnacle achievement for any pilot. Allowing a student pilot to solo on his or her birthday is a time-honored tradition.”  

In a community losing thousands of private pilots per year, enabling student pilots to solo on their birthday is another tool for the FAA and industry to bring the next generation of aviators into the community.

Until a permanent solution is implemented, AOPA recommends that student pilots who are seeking to solo in an airplane on their sixteenth birthday work around the problem by applying for a student pilot certificate under the glider category, in which the minimum age to solo is 14. The FAA will issue the student pilot certificate, which is not specific to any particular category or class of aircraft. The student's flight instructor can then endorse the student’s logbook for solo flight in an airplane on his or her sixteenth birthday.  

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Training and Safety, Advocacy, Training and Safety

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