The Career Student Pilot

The purpose of becoming a student pilot is to become a private pilot, but there are some pilots that deliberately remain students and, in doing so, retain certain privileges, while bypassing certain requirements. What does the FAA have to say about the ‘career‘ student pilot?

The student pilot certificate was invented to be a short-term license to learn. Ideally the student pilot would eagerly transition to the next level. The spirit of FAR Part 61 promotes this transition. But some pilots have violated the spirit of part 61 by using the strict letter of the law. Nothing in the law requires a student pilot to become a private pilot. So, if a student pilot had access to an airplane through ownership or rental, and had the assistance of a flight instructor, a student could fly for years and never have to take a knowledge test, never have to take a checkride, and never have to get a BFR.

When a person receives their first student pilot certificate, they receive it from a medical doctor. Physicians apply to become Airman’s Medical Examiners and this gives them the authority to grant medical and student pilot certificates. It is at the doctor’s office that the new pilot fills out the application to become a student pilot. When the medical exam is passed, the person leaves the office with a yellow card that is two-in-one: both a medical and student pilot certificate. The student pilot certificate part of the card is good for 24 months — it is hoped that within that 24 months the student pilot will pass a checkride and become a private pilot (or recreational pilot).

Important note: The medical certificate part of the card may have a different expiration date based on the class of certificate applied for and the applicant’s age. If you have a combination Third class medical/Student pilot certificate and are younger than 40, your medical is good 36 months, but the part that is a Student certificate is only good for 24 months.

Q: What if after 24 months the student has not become a private pilot?
A: On the last day of the 24th month the student pilot certificate will expire a new one must be obtained.

Q: Where do you go to get a second student pilot certificate?
A: If you go back to the doctor, the AME is supposed to deny you a second certificate. A second student certificate comes from either an FAA inspector or a Designated Pilot Examiner. This gives the inspector or examiner the opportunity to question the student about their flight training progress.

There may be any number of legitimate reasons why the student has not completed a private pilot certificate: loss of training funds, moving to a new location, or interrupted interest. In these cases a new student certificate is issued. But the examiner/inspector is looking for the ‘career’ student pilot who has over 100 hours of local flights, but no clear progression to a certificate. The examiner/inspector has the option to deny a second student certificate.

Important note: When applying for a second student pilot certificate the applicant must complete the Airman’s Application for Certificate or Rating form (FAA 8710-1) and check the box indicating Student Pilot in the upper left.

The screen to catch career student pilots is not fine. AMEs have been known to issue a second student certificate at the time of a medical certificate renewal. The denial of a student certificate by an inspector/examiner can, in effect, be over ruled by talking to another inspector/examiner who does not feel the same way and issues a new certificate.

The person who is in the best position to stop the career student is the flight instructor. Remember, a student pilot needs an instructor’s endorsement every 90 days to fly solo, so a student cannot continue flying without a CFIs help. The flight instructor’s job is to help student pilots get better and ultimately reach private pilot standards. The instructor who assists a career student pilot is actually helping them stay bad. This, although not strictly against the law, is against the ideals we want CFIs to hold.

BOTTOM LINE: Of course, the person in the very best position to stop the career student is the student themselves. As a student, your goal should always be to become the safest, smartest, and most proficient pilot you can be. Along the way to that goal, you should qualify for the private pilot certificate and beyond. If that’s not your aim, get out of the game.