Hiring a car when abroad
When travelling abroad, you can easily walk into a car hire office and drive off in minutes. All you need is a current driving licence from your home country and a credit card. There’s no need to pass any theory tests, prove that you understand the local traffic laws or even have done any driving recently. But any restrictions on your current licence will apply, for example if you passed your test on an automatic then you can’t legally drive a car with a “stick shift” or manual gearbox.
This arrangement has been in place for many years and is commonly used, with no public outrage at the safety risks to date. Perhaps tourists and those on foreign business trips drive cautiously to allow for their lack of experience in those countries.
Hiring a plane when abroad in the US
It’s not quite as easy for PPL pilots though. It’s perfectly valid to fly a UK registered aircraft almost anywhere you want – although flying a single engined small plane across the Atlantic might not be to everyone’s taste. Equally you can rent or fly a foreign registered aircraft here in the UK. But if you want to rent a plane when abroad in the US, you will need to have a current US Private Pilot Certificate (they don’t call them licences there).
Fortunately, there is a fairly straightforward way to get one. It involves:
- A bit of form filling and paperwork in advance
- A visit to a FSDO (or a flying school with a designated foreign pilot examiner)
- Taking an hour of groundschool and an hour of dual instruction to activate it
Unlike those training for a full PPL or additional ratings, you won’t need TSA approval or a student visa. You can continue to enter the US on the Visa Waiver program like any other tourist by registering online and getting approval to travel a few days before you go (using the ESTA website). Once you’ve been through these hoops, this means that you can take advantage of any short notice business or tourist trips to drop by any airfield and ask to rent a plane. You might be asked for a quick checkride by whoever is renting you their aircraft, or you may prefer to fly with an instructor familiar with the area and procedures, but there’s no legal requirement for any further training or test.
Equivalent ratings are transferred
The standard UK PPL excludes the right to fly at night whereas the standard US Private Pilot includes this privilege. If you have completed the Night Rating, then your equivalent US certificate will include this rating – if not, then you are limited to daytime VFR. This applies even though the US night training syllabus is different from the UK one, and includes a longer cross country leg.
The UK IR(R) rating won’t grant you any additional benefits in the US because it is a UK only rating. A full EASA IR could be included in the conversion too (with an additional test).
So the most you can get is a PPL – you can’t use this process to obtain a piggback CPL or ATPL.
How to apply
1) Get a “Letter of Verification”
Select which FSDO office you want to collect your licence from. It can be difficult to change later in the process. Select your region to view a list of offices on this FAA webpage.
Fill in the form on the FAA Foreign Verification website page and email directly to the FAA email address on the webpage.
Fill in the SRG1160 form on the UK CAA website including the payment page. The form includes guidance notes.
It’s hard to say how long the CAA may take to process your application, but allow a few weeks as a minimum.
This letter of verification states that you should then book an appointment with the FSDO office stated in your original application
2) Get a “Temporary Airman’s Certificate”
You can do this in one of two ways:
a) Visit a FSDO (FAA Standards District Office, pronounced “Fizz-Doh”). These can have strange opening hours and are not always easy to find. You are recommended to book any appointment at least two weeks ahead. Clearly this can be difficult in the case of short notice trips. In practice you may find a FSDO to be more accommodating, especially if they realise you have come a long way and are limited on the time for an appointment.
It should take somewhere between ten minutes and an hour to be issued with a temporary airman’s certificate. You’ll need to show your pilot’s licence, current medical and logbook as well as the letter of verification plus TWO forms of government issued photo id, such as passport and driving licence. There is no charge for the licence issue by the FAA.
b) Visit a flying school with a designated pilot examiner who is also authorised for foreign pilots. I couldn’t find any directory or list of schools with this capability, so you may have to enquire more widely. These examiners are empowered to issue a temporary airman’s certificate in the same way as the local FSDO office. Again, you just need to present them with the same documentation on arrival. You may be charged a fee for this, but it will save you time. They will use the online IACRA system to do this. It helps if you pre-register beforehand and can give them your FTN number, username and password.
3) Take a Flight Review with an instructor
Every two years, all US PPL pilots are required to take a Flight Review with an instructor. This was formerly called a Bi-ennial Flight Review or BFR, and these terms continue to be used. It consists of at least one hour’s groundschool and one hour’s dual flight training. Although you can’t “fail” a Flight Review, the instructor can decide not to sign you off – which amounts to pretty much the same thing – except it is not recorded anywhere as such.
The certificate you have just obtained is considered “timed out” until you complete a Flight Review. This can be done in the UK – there are a few qualified and registered instructors around – but is best done in the US where you can become familiar with the procedures and terminology.
On completion, your logbook will be signed off and you will be legal to fly solo anywhere in the US. You’ll receive a more permanent licence through the post a few weeks later, but you don’t need to wait for that to arrive before flying solo in the US.
It’s also possible to gain a new rating instead of taking a Flight Review, such as a seaplane. This will involve a course of several hours instruction plus a checkride.
Keeping it valid
Because it’s based on your UK/EASA PPL, you must have a current licence. Since both are non-expiring lifetime validity, unlike a JAR licence with 5 year expiry, this is implicit. You must have either an EASA Class 2 medical or an FAA Class 3.
If you change address, you must inform the FAA within 30 days and the US PPL becomes invalid – you will have to go through the application process again to get a new one.
A Flight Review is required every two years to keep the licence current, but if it lapses there is no additional action to reinstate currency. Any US CFI (Certified Flying Instructor) can conduct a Flight Review. To save a trip to the US, these can be also done in the UK at the same time as your JAR review by a small number of dual approved FAA and EASA examiners, such as Uplift Aviation or Samson Flight
Dealing with JAR to EASA Licence conversion
Between December 2013 and October 2018, the UK CAA and FAA agreed a simple process to re-issue FAA 61.75 licences after a JAR to EASA licence conversion. This was required because EASA licences have different serial numbers.
This process was discontinued in October 2018 and any pilot who had not used it by then is required to go through the full licence validation process above for it to be reissued.
Additional US ratings can be added
It is possible to add further FAA ratings to a 61.75, including the Instrument Rating (just need to pass the Instrument Foreign Pilot theory test as I did here) and Seaplane Rating (which I did in Florida). If you later obtain a full standalone FAA PPL, these additional ratings can be easily transferred across.
Holding both a 61.75 and a Standalone FAA certificate
The FAA regulations permit the issue of a standalone FAA airman certificate to pilots who already hold a piggyback 61.75. The converse is not true – once holding a standalone FAA certificate, then you can’t have a 61.75 issued.
FAA ratings obtained on the 61.75, such as an FAA instrument rating, can then be transferred to the standalone certificate.
Some pilots comment that the 61.75 licence is a built on a “deck of cards”, in that if anything happens to your UK licence then your US licence becomes invalidated. This includes moving house, having a new UK licence number (for example when changing to EASA) etc. However, in the first instance the process to attain a standalone FAA Private Pilot Certificate is much more onerous – requiring TSA and visa clearance, likely further cross-country and/or night logbook time, additional training and a checkride. It is possible to do most but not all of this in the UK (reducing the need for a visa) at a price, but I believe the theory exams in particular can only be taken in the US.
If the main purpose of the licence is for occasional rental, then a 61.75 offers a simpler administrative route. For those seeking a full FAA Instrument Rating, then taking the time and effort for the standalone FAA PPL is probably worthwhile since you will need a visa for training in the US anyway.
Self-Declared Medical does not apply
Both the UK CAA and US FAA have introduced schemes that allow private pilots to self-declare their medical fitness rather than visit a medical examiner.
The UK Personal Medical Declaration scheme only applies to flights within the UK and not abroad.
The US Basic Med scheme only applies to pilots resident in the US and does not cover flights abroad.
I would therefore suggest that self-declared medicals in neither country applies to a 61.75 piggyback licence and you will need a current EASA Class 2 or FAA Class 3 (but not both).