How to get a US FAA PPL Licence based on your UK PPL

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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 Instrument Rating can be included in the conversion subject only to one additional multiple-choice theory test.

The highest licence privilege you can get this way is a PPL – there is no such thing as a piggyback CPL or ATPL.

How to apply

1) Get a “Letter of Verification” from the FAA

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. Choose the New York office if you plan to complete this with a local FAA examiner in the UK.

Either

a) Register for an account the FAA Airman certificate/rating portal (IACRA), and then fill in the online form to start the verification process. You’ll have to upload a scan of your licence and provide other details. This is the preferred method, should be quicker and will make your life easier in the future.

b) Fill in the 8060-71 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 and will require separate proof of address.

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 within six months.

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”). This is now discouraged in favour of (b) below. 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 (e.g. passport and driving licence), and proof of address. There is no charge for the licence issue by the FAA.

I’ve heard it has become more difficult to arrange appointments for this at FSDOs in recent years – they very much prefer that you do this through a DPE instead.

b) Visit a flying school with a DPE (designated pilot examiner) who is also authorised for foreign pilots. I couldn’t find any online 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. You just need to present them with the same documentation on arrival. You may probably be charged a fee for this, but it will save you time. They will use the online IACRA system to do this, so it helps if you pre-register beforehand and can give them your FTN number, username and password.

This can be done entirely in the UK – there are two FAA DPE’s based in the UK who will handle the paperwork for a fee. In no particular order: Adam House (based somewhere in Derbyshire) and Tom Hughston (based in Norfolk).

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 PPL, you must have a current licence. Both have non-expiring lifetime validity. 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.

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 FAA 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 PPL SEP revalidation by a small number of dual approved FAA and UK instructors, such as Uplift Aviation or Samson Flight

Radio Operator Certificate

If you want to be scrupulously legal, then an FCC Radio Operator Permit is required when flying an FAA aircraft outside the USA. This isn’t needed within the USA, and arguably isn’t required within the UK (which would be covered by your UK licence).

It’s a fairly straightforward one-off process, completed online with payment of a fee.

CFI Academy document it clearly here

  1. Register for an FCC account at https://apps.fcc.gov/coresWeb/publicHome.do
  2. Login and select a Restricted Radio Licence on the FCC site https://wireless2.fcc.gov/UlsEntry/licManager/login.jsp
  3. Answer NO to all three questions, pay the fee and receive the Permit by mail.
    The fee was $70 at the time of writing and is valid on all N-Reg aircraft worldwide.

In addition, every N-Reg aircraft should also have a valid radio licence, similar to those issued by Ofcom for G-Reg aircraft. The application process and fee is similar.

Additional US ratings can be added

It is possible to add further FAA ratings to a 61.75, including the Instrument Rating (no need for a practical test, just take one 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.

The theory exam for the Instrument Pilot Theory can only be taken in the US.

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.

Disadvantages

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 either a current UK Class 2 or FAA Class 3 (but not both).

Last Updated 27 April 2021

13 comments

  1. Hi Philip. Sadly I don’t think it will. The 61.75 is based on a valid UK/EASA PPL and associated medical, not on the FAA system directly. Since your UK/EASA PPL isn’t valid without an EASA Class 2 medical, I suspect that the 61.75 based on that would therefore also be invalid.

    Feel free to ask the question on one of the forums and see if you can get a more informed opinion.

  2. Hi David, do you know if this applies for higher level ratings (IR and ME) and Commercial Licenses or is it just for PPL?

    1. The article does relate to PPL – the 61.75 rules only apply to issuing Private Licences and associated privileges, although these could be issued on the basis of your CPL or ATPL. You can’t get a CPL or ATPL piggyback licence issued in this way, only PPL. This is clearly stated at the start of the relevant US regulations 14 CFR Part 61 5-592.

      Regarding the IR, it is possible to
      a) train for and pass an FAA IR exam which can be put on your piggyback FAA PPL licence. This can be used in the US and also in Europe (in an N Reg aircraft), but new European rules coming in soon threaten that option in Europe – EASA currently indicate they will require an EASA IR, even for pilots with FAA licences flying N-Reg aircraft
      b) convert an existing EASA IR to an FAA one, which is then added to your FAA PPL licence. I believe this requires taking the theory exam + a checkride/flight test, and probably also some TSA checks. I really don’t know too much about that

      If you have an IR added to your piggyback PPL licence and then later get a full standalone FAA PPL licence (requires sitting the flight test + some paperwork etc.), then it can be transferred across.

      Hope this helps

  3. Hi David,

    Can I add seaplane rating to my 61.75 and then validate it back to my EASA license? Once transferred it stays there no matter whether my validated license becomes invalid for whatever reason? Thank you in advance

    1. I looked into this before and the CAA did confirm it was possible at the time, but would require a theory test in the UK. My understanding is that you can do this, you would need to pass the Seaplane theory exam (or prove you were a RYA Yachtmaster) and be current with number of take-offs and landings. Strongly recommend you check this directly with the CAA to ensure this route is open – EASA regulations have taken over since I did my seaplane rating and it may have changed.

    1. I’m not aware of any changes, so yes – you still need to visit a FSDO in person for the initial issue of an FAA airman certificate. This is because the FAA want one of their staff to physically meet you and confirm your ID because verification that you hold a licence by the UK CAA isn’t enough on its own. Once you have the licence, there are a few FAA examiners and instructors based in UK and Europe who can conduct flight reviews, training, checkrides etc. so you wouldn’t need to make subsequent visits to the US.

  4. Hello David,
    It could just be the usual uninformed rumour-mongering, but a colleague has suggested that UK applicants under CFR 61.75 may only be able to do so through a specific FDSO, e.g New York. I can’t find anything on the FAA / CAA websites to confirm or refute this, and New York is about the last US place I feel like going to!
    Many thanks, Ed

    1. You do have to visit a FSDO office but you select which one you want when you fill in the initial application form and it can be pretty much any one, not just New York. This is clearly stated on the FAA websiteOnce the verification process has been completed, a copy of the verification letter will be sent to the applicant as well as to the Flight Standards District Office indicated on the application form.”

      I believe it is possible to change to a different FSDO but not recommended. A temporary certificate is issued on the spot and you just need a BFR (usually combined with a flight school checkout) before heading off into the sunset. Be sure to apply well in advance – the main bottleneck is the UK CAA which can take some weeks to process your request. I have no information about how long this currently takes.

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