Setting out to learn to fly is an exciting, but also daunting, prospect. There is a lot to learn, and there is a lot of responsibility that goes along with that education. Still, the fun of it, the challenge in it, and the prospect of all the opportunities that will open up when we become certificated pilots, all combine to keep us motivated to achieve the coveted privileges of a private pilot.
In our law practice, we hear from student pilots with questions about how to comply with certain regulations and what requirements must be met to obtain certain privileges or to engage in certain operations. It’s not very often that we see the FAA take enforcement action against student pilots for violations of the FAA’s regulation, but the few that do occur generally fall into three categories: errors on the medical application form, carrying passengers, and failure to have the proper endorsements for a flight. And, in these cases, the FAA is usually successful in revoking the student pilot’s certificate for the violations. Revocation is not the end of a student’s quest for a pilot certificate, but it will delay the student from continuing the training for one year. We hope that raising your awareness of these most common student pilot mistakes will help you avoid making them yourselves.
Most student pilots must complete a medical application form and submit to an examination before receiving a student pilot/medical certificate. The form is only a single page but it’s packed full with questions that probe into the applicant’s past medical history and present medical qualifications. The FAA demands that all of those questions be answered completely and truthfully to the best of your knowledge. Too often we see students provide answers that are not correct, which sets up an FAA accusation that the student intentionally falsified the form, which then permits the FAA to deny or revoke the certificate. Student pilots, like all pilots, must be aware to pay close attention to the questions on the form, each and every time they complete the form. We generally recommend that students fill out a practice medical application form so that any questions that are confusing or require more information are discovered early enough to get the question, and the appropriate answer, clarified. AOPA offers TurboMedical to members, an interactive medical application planning tool that can help identify potential problems to be able to deal with them before submitting an actual application to the FAA.
Student pilots are limited in what they may do when operating an aircraft. One of the limitations is that a student pilot may not act as pilot in command of an aircraft that is carrying a passenger. This limitation is specifically noted on the student pilot certificate. This prohibition does not apply to the flight instructor, who is not considered a passenger and who is the acting pilot in command of any instructional flight. But it does apply to taking someone up for a short flight to show off what you’re learning—as a student pilot, you can’t do it. The FAA has a well-established view that the action of a student pilot who, while acting as pilot-in-command, carries a passenger or passengers, is a serious violation warranting revocation. Wait until you have that private pilot certificate in your wallet.
Before embarking on any solo flight, a student pilot must have a current and appropriate endorsement from a flight instructor. Check to make sure you have these endorsements, and that they’re current, before flying. Without the proper endorsements, you are essentially flying without a license. That’s not allowed. For solo flights at your home airport or within 25 nautical miles of your home airport, a flight instructor must give you the required training in the make and model aircraft to be flown and endorse your student pilot certificate with this information, and the flight instructor must also endorse your logbook to reflect that the required training was given within the previous 90 days. In addition, before any solo cross-country flight, you must have the proper endorsement from a flight instructor who has reviewed your cross country planning, the weather conditions, and your proficiency to determine whether you may conduct that particular cross country flight. This is meant to ensure that you are qualified and safe to fly the airplane solo.
There is a lot to learn as a student pilot, just as there will be a lot to learn as you advance through ratings and higher certificates. Not only are you learning to fly the airplane, but you are also learning the rules that apply to flying in our shared airspace. It’s fun. It’s rewarding. It’s freedom. It is also a responsibility, and the FAA expects that the rules will be respected, for everyone’s safety.