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A friend of mine owns a flight school in the states. A Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) has informed his staff that a new TSA regulation will require all new prospective flight students to meet with a DPE prior to starting any flight training. That is, every new student will need permission from a government agent prior taking a flight lesson from any flight school (61 or 141).

I would typically dismiss this as nonsense but, considering he source of the info is a DPE, I'm curious to know if there is any truth behind this rumor.

Does the TSA plan to implement rules that require every prospective student to seek pre-approval from a government agent (not just a flight school) prior to beginning flight training?

Current regulations require the flight school, or independent CFI as the case may be, to verify citizenship and retain records. This can be done in minutes. The DPE indicates that appointments are required and additional fees assessed for the new layer of government approval.

Say it ain't so!

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    $\begingroup$ What possible use is a DPE to determine if a potential student is a possible threat? That's hardly what they're trained for or expert in. Since the Department of Transportation (of which the FAA is a part) and the DHS (of which the TSA is a part) are entirely separate agencies, I don't see how "meeting with a DPE" equates to "TSA pre-approval". Knowing a few DPE's, I would hardly accept their claims about future government regulations as authoritative and infallible -- they have a fairly limited "inside track" in such things. As described, this all sounds like nonsense to me. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Oct 4 '15 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ Agree, but the same question can be asked of a CFI. A CFI certainly isn't trained to identify "bad guys" but they're asked to collect and retain citizenship documents for years. I'm not saying this makes any sense, just that it seems plausible that an inept government organization would do something like this. $\endgroup$ – acpilot Oct 4 '15 at 16:46
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(Answer completely rewritten based on new information)

Does the TSA plan to implement rules that require every prospective student to seek pre-approval from a government agent (not just a flight school) prior to beginning flight training?

Not exactly. US citizens can still start flight training whenever they want. But from April 1, 2016 pre-approval from "a government agent" (the TSA) is required prior to soloing. Foreigners will still need TSA approval before starting flight training.


The final rule on this has now been published in the Federal Register and the TSA will indeed vet all student pilots, as of 1 April 2016 (my emphasis):

This action requires applicants to apply for a student pilot certificate through a Flight Standards District Office, designated pilot examiner, airman certification representative associated with a pilot school, or certified flight instructor. Aviation Medical Examiners will no longer issue a combination medical certificate and student pilot certificate. Student pilot certificates will be issued on the same medium as other pilot certificates and will have no expiration date. All student pilot certificates issued before the effective date of this final rule will expire according to their terms unless they are replaced by another pilot certificate. This final rule responds to section 4012 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act and facilitates security vetting by the Transportation Security Administration of student pilot applicants prior to certificate issuance. This action withdraws the proposal for pilot certificates to include a photograph of the individual pilot.

But note that a student pilot's license is still not required in order to start training, it's only required in order to solo. So under this new rule, a US citizen can start flight training as usual, but can't solo until he gets TSA approval for his student pilot application:

IRTPA [the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act] required that security vetting of all individuals, including pilots, must be successfully completed by TSA before the FAA issues a certificate. Therefore, applicants for student pilot certificates must be vetted to receive their certificates and operate an aircraft as pilot in command.

This also means that AMEs will no longer issue student certs, only medical certificates. The FAA expects that processing will take several weeks, which may be an issue for accelerated training programs that aim to get you a full pilot's license in a month or less:

The FAA estimates that the turnaround time for student pilot certificates can be reduced to an average of 3 weeks or less, provided that initial security vetting by TSA indicates that the applicant is eligible for the certificate.

There was also some concern that it wouldn't be possible for pilots to solo on their 16th birthday any more because of the processing time, but the FAA specifically addressed that point, essentially by asking students to submit their application well in advance.

On the 'plus' side, the new regulation specifically says that pilots licenses will still not have a photograph (at least for now), which would have added more time and costs to the whole process. And the new student certificates will be plastic, not paper.

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    $\begingroup$ Last four words: "or certified flight instructor". $\endgroup$ – egid Oct 4 '15 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ One of the concerns that the question raised was that the new rules would "require every prospective student to seek pre-approval from a government agent... prior to beginning flight training". Maybe edit your answer to clarify that this isn't really true, since student pilot certificates aren't needed before starting training, but only to solo. $\endgroup$ – Brian Oct 5 '15 at 0:40

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