I hope to get a PPL, IR, and possibly CPL someday. It looks like obtaining a student pilot certificate does not require anything except being 16 or older, knowing English, and completing a free application. Is there any reason not to get an SPC now, so I'll have one less thing to worry about if/when I eventually start flight training?
There is no reason, in my opinion, not to get a Student Pilot Certificate now. You can apply at your closest Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) at no cost to you.
Also, since you seem you have a real interest in aviation, having a Student Pilot Certificate in your possession may serve to amplify your motivation to pursue becoming a pilot.
Since the Student Pilot Certificate will not expire, but hopefully instead will be superseded by a Private Pilot Certificate, getting that step accomplished is one less thing that you will have to do.
$\begingroup$ Does the application have to be done in person? $\endgroup$ Mar 31 at 3:45
1$\begingroup$ @Someone I would say it would need to be done in person so your identity could be verified. But, you might call the FSDO and see if there is an alternative. My guess is not. $\endgroup$– 757togaMar 31 at 3:50
There is no advantage to doing so. One reason not to the requirement to find a CFI who will do the IACRA paperwork for you. When you are actually in training, a CFI will do this as a matter of course. The process requires meeting in person, so it is likely a CFI will charge you for their time if they are willing to do so at all.
As you mention in a comment, it appears to be an option to file an application form in dead tree format at an FSDO. In that case replace paying a CFI for their time with whatever amount of your own time that takes.
If you anticipate moving any time between now and starting flight training, having the certificate already would also oblige you to notify the FAA of your address change before exercising the certificate. That's one more thing to worry about.
On the other hand, if you have no medical problems, I would recommend you get the medical now. If you are under 40 a third class medical is good for five years, and it will allow you to use Basic Med afterwards, which is not possible without having a previous medical.
1$\begingroup$ According to faa.gov/pilots/become/student_cert , you can apply directly to an FSDO for free. Is there any reason why that wouldn't work? $\endgroup$ Mar 30 at 19:51
$\begingroup$ @Someone I'm not familiar with that process, but sounds like it should work. I suppose if you live close to your FSDO that's an option. I really, really wouldn't bother if you have anything better to do, though. $\endgroup$– ChrisMar 30 at 19:58
If you know you are going to have some medical complication (that you expect to be able to resolve), then you should start the process right away.
For example, let's say you have some minor color vision deficiency. You need to go for your medical, fail the color vision test, then get a referral to an ophthalmologist who will petition the FAA to grant a practical eye exam. You will then be able to travel to an FSDO and perform a practical signal light gun test. If everything goes well, you will be granted a color vision waiver and your student pilot certificate.
Every step of this process involving the FAA takes 90 days. Add in the time to get the referral and for the doctor to respond -- this process can easily take six to nine months.
You really do not want to interrupt your flight training with a long delay, so if you are going to face something like this, go ahead and start the process immediately.
2$\begingroup$ Thank you! I don't anticipate any medical issues, so I assume none of this applies in my case? $\endgroup$ Mar 31 at 17:45
1$\begingroup$ @Someone, no one ever anticipates any medical issues, but unfortunately the MEs often find some anyway :( As someone whose flying career was derailed for decades due to medical issues, I would urge you to get the medical certificate done as soon as possible while you're young and healthy. That will unlock BasicMed for you for the rest of your life, which is a much lower and easier standard to clear than an actual medical certificate. $\endgroup$ Mar 31 at 19:29