I want to be able to fly gliders as “pilot in command” in the USA via a US FAA license issued reciprocally on the basis of my Australian one.
I also want to be able to fly powered aircraft in the USA on the same basis, but that is actually fairly simple. It is the glider part that isn’t, due to some unique aspects of the way gliding is administered in Australia.
Because the process turns out to be surprisingly hard (and non-obvious in places), I have documented it here, in the hope that it might help someone else in the future.
That said, please – only read on if you enjoy the sheer masochism of aviation paperwork… along with the unavoidable acronym soup involved in anything specialised…
Many years ago (before September 11) I had done this once before.
Back then, I just walked in to an FAA District Office unannounced, with my Australian Passport and Gliding Federation of Australia (GFA) paperwork, walked out ten minutes later with a US Pilots License endorsed for Glider flying. Easy. I did a flight review with a gliding school in Minden and then went soaring, and had a lovely time of it.
Post September 11, the USA switched from paper licenses with no photo to plastic (‘drivers license style’) licenses with a photo on them, but there was a long transition period where the old paper licenses were still considered to be valid.
For FAA licenses issued to foreign nationals on a reciprocal basis (like mine), the process of obtaining that US ‘plastic’ license involves a lot of verification steps that didn’t previously exist – as another consequence of the post 9-11 world of ‘enhanced security’.
Because Australian glider pilots, flying under the authority of the Gliding Federation of Australia (GFA) don’t actually have a real license in the ICAO standard sense (no, I don’t know why either), two additional layers of paperwork and administration have had to be created in Australia so that the FAA can then (re)issue me with a US pilots license, endorsed for Glider flight in the USA, on that same reciprocal basis.
Its worth dwelling on this point for a moment longer, because its why I’ve just spent months doing paperwork (so far – I’m not done yet) – and in definite homage to Monty Python:
An Australian ‘GLIDER PILOT LICENSE’ (GPL) issued by CASA (the Australian version of the FAA) is not a license to fly gliders in Australia.
Instead, the GPL is it seems, merely an administrative construct (in geek terms, its like a symbolic link in a file system) that joins the dots between an international licensing system (that wants to see an ICAO compliant thing called a license) and the Australian glider flying environment administered by the GFA (that doesn’t actually issue something called a license to Australian glider pilots).
What the GFA administer is a set of paperwork about glider pilots that in aggregate is operationally equivalent to a license, but it just isn’t called a license.
Working further back: The process of obtaining a CASA issued GPL requires a number of things to be submitted to CASA.
Most importantly, the GFA have (in turn) had to create something called a “GLIDER PILOT CERTIFICATE” (GPC)… and you’ll note how strenuously the GFA have avoided calling it a ‘license’. That might be… confusing.
The GPC appears to have no obvious function other than simply being a required administrative input into CASA for their Glider Pilot License (GPL) application form.
Importantly, then, the GFA issued GLIDER PILOT CERTIFICATE (GPC) is not a certificate that affords the holder the right to fly gliders in Australia. Its just another administrative ‘symbolic link’.
This multi-step process, requiring the input of many people and the submission of a lot of paperwork over several weeks, and a hell of a lot of head-scratching, frankly, is just one of the many benefits of the delegation of gliding to the GFA by CASA.
By contrast, the USA a glider pilot is simply a pilot with a normal FAA license, that has an endorsement added to that license after appropriate training, to permit the license holder to fly gliders. Easy.
But… here in Australia, damn it, we do it our way because… Australia.
After some research, I determined that the checklist to obtain an FAA pilots license (replacing the previous ten minute casual walk-in exercise before 9-11) now looks like this:
- Be a GFA member in good standing with a GFA authority to fly gliders in Australia
- Obtain a Glider Pilot Certificate (GPC) from the GFA on that basis
- Obtain a Glider Pilot License (GPL) from CASA on the basis of the GPC
- Apply to the FAA for an FAA license on the basis of the GPL
- FAA then verify with CASA that I hold a GPL (takes “45 to 90 days”)
- Schedule a face-to-face meeting in a US FAA District Office
- Fly to the USA for that meeting
- Walk out with US license
- Fly home to Australia
On the other hand, think how much safer the world is, now that I have to do all of the above, in order to be able to keep doing something I was already authorised to do.
Actually, its worse. There are more steps in there, the deeper you dig.
In the hope of helping others who might be crazy enough to follow this path, here’s the journey for me thus far:
1) Starting point: GFA membership in good standing
Yes, got that. Been flying gliders in Australia under the GFA since the mid 1980’s.
2) Apply to GFA for GFA Glider Pilot Certificate (GPC)
The GFA web site is (to put it mildly) rather difficult to find anything on. To save others the grief, I’ll skip the two weeks and multiple emails to the (very friendly and helpful) GFA staff and tell you where the right link is:
On the link above, fill in the blanks and magic will happen that involves your gliding club Chief Flying Instructor (CFI) being asked to attest to the GFA that you have been appropriately qualified/trained by the GFA and that you can be issued with a GPC. Not withstanding that you might well have been actually flying gliders in Australia for the last 20 years. Apparently that’s not the point.
In my case I had found other, outdated, information on the GFA site about the GPC process that confused me because it was inconsistent with the current process. The GFA have updated the site a bit since. A bit.
Having submitted the form, I received (in the mail) in due course a re-issue of my GFA plastic membership card with the words “GLIDER PILOT CERTIFICATE” added to it.
You also need something I will describe as ‘the magic GFA letter”.
This letter contains CASA-designated boilerplate text about the GFA training syllabus having been followed – not withstanding that if it hadn’t been followed, the GFA wouldn’t have printed the magic words “GLIDER PILOT CERTIFICATE” on your renewed membership card in the first place.
This boilerplate appears to be some legal ‘glue’. It seems to contend that while the GPC that the GFA have issued isn’t a license (oh no, it isn’t a License, it is a Certificate!), it is evidence that the pilot concerned has been trained under a syllabus equivalent to that which CASA would have considered sufficient to issue that pilot with a license to fly gliders, if the GFA actually did issue licenses.
I proactively asked for this letter but I expect the GFA also issue it to you automatically when you ask for the GPC, as they know you’ll need it with CASA for the next step.
I also understand that the GFA plans to squeeze the boilerplate text, presumably in a 2pt font (its not short), onto the back of a future version of the GFA membership card directly, to avoid the need for this side letter… and because that’s obviously much more rational than the GFA simply issuing its pilots with an actual license to fly gliders.
Armed the GFA GPC and the magic side letter, its time for the next step…
3) Obtain a CASA Glider Pilot License (GPL)
This makes the GFA process look easy.
CASA have converted themselves to “Part 61” in licensing terms in the last year or so (a process they are still recovering from, along with the industry they administer). So you can’t obtain an endorsement such as the GPL on your CASA license until you’ve converted it to “Part 61” format.
Aside: CASA have ‘modernised’ by removing the photo ID from their old (“CAR 5”) format license so that the new (but still paper) CASA license is no longer valid unless you also bring along an (unspecified) piece of photo ID with it. Meantime, the US FAA system has converted (years ago) from paper with no ID to a simple drivers-license style plastic card with photo ID embedded into it.
In my case I was already an active powered pilot and I had already converted my license to Part 61 format due to other qualifications I’d added to that license over the last year.
For an Australian glider pilot that isn’t already in the CASA pilot license system (you don’t have to be – because the GFA don’t issue licenses), here is is what you have to do first:
- Obtain a CASA ARN via CASA form 1162 [ www.casa.gov.au/manuals/regulate/fcl/form1162.pdf ]
Alternatively, if you already had a pilots’ license (in powered aircraft) with CASA:
- Convert your old CASA “CAR 5” license to “Part 61” form, by submitting Form 61-9TX [ www.casa.gov.au/manuals/regulate/fcl/form61-9tx.pdf ]
A word of warning: Form 61-9TX is a monster. You’ll need to obtain certified copies of bits of your logbook, bits of ID and lots of other stuff. You’ll have to dig up all sorts of stuff CASA didn’t previously need to know about you, from your logbook, and summarise it for them. Processing of this form by CASA will also take months, not weeks. They’re backlogged with converting the entire existing pilot population over to the new system, and each conversion involves them processing this long and winding form. The process is complex enough that it can take a few iterations for them to get your new license correctly issued.
Anyway… now that you have got a shiny new CASA Part 61 license sorted out, you are ready to ask CASA to issue you with a GPL. How hard can that be?
- The form for that is CASA Form 61-1GP [ http://www.casa.gov.au/wcmswr/_assets/main/manuals/regulate/fcl/form61-1gp.pdf ]
This requires a few inputs:
- Another $50
- A ‘certified true’ copy of the GFA GPC plastic card saying GLIDER PILOT CERTIFICATE
- Your personalised named copy of the otherwise identical magic GFA side letter
- Ensure CASA hold a newer-than 10 years old photo of you on file (remember they no longer put one on your CASA license); else submit CASA form 61-9PIC [ http://www.casa.gov.au/wcmswr/_assets/main/manuals/regulate/fcl/form61-9pic.pdf ]
- Security checking information on the form (noting that CASA don’t accept their own CASA-issued Aviation Security ID Card as a valid form of identification or security verification for processing any other CASA form – and I am really not kidding)
But wait, there is ‘one more thing’…. and it is not mentioned on Form 61-1GP because you are supposed to Just Know This:
You must also submit CASA form 452, ‘Flight Crew Verification Authority to Release Information” [ http://www.casa.gov.au/wcmswr/_assets/main/manuals/regulate/fcl/form452.pdf ] with another $50.
That buys you a whole year to ask the FAA to do their bits (which come next). It authorises CASA to respond to the FAA by supplying them with a copy of your license documentation when they ask for it.
If all this expense is getting to you a bit, you can submit both forms in the same envelope when you post them to CASA, so you can at least save yourself the price of one stamp.
Having sent all of that off to Canberra (registered mail plus a scan emailed ahead to CASA due to … past experience) – you wait a while.
In my case CASA sent my updated Part 61 paper license back to me today. It has taken them about 5 weeks to process the paperwork (surprisingly fast compared to some other interactions with CASA that I’ve had in the last year).
Importantly, my license now contains the magic words “GLIDER PILOT LICENSE” – yay! w00t!
4) Submit paperwork to the FAA
That process is documented here:
… which links to
… which links to this form:
In accordance with US Federal Law, the form noted above has three pages of conditions, notes, and instructions to explain how to fill in a one page form and it claims that it’ll take me just ten minutes to do it. Cough.
You have to fill in this form, scan it in and email the scan to the FAA (or you can still choose to be rustic and post it to Oklahoma if you wish).
One of the boxes on the hand-filled-in paper form requires you to write down your email address so the FAA can email you to follow up your application if needed. Cough.
This is the part of the process I’ve got to, today – I’m about to fill in the FAA form, which I must then send in to them along with a copy of my CASA license and medical.
On receipt, the FAA say that they will require ’45 to 90 days’ to contact CASA and get them to send over a copy of exactly the same license and medical documents (presumably on genuine Aussie paper and sent via sea mail to make it take that long).
After that, the FAA will send me (email me?) a ‘verification letter’.
On receipt of that ‘verification letter’, I must then schedule a face-to-face meeting with at least two weeks warning in an FAA district office in the USA.
In that meeting, I expect that someone in the office concerned will look up their own database to make sure that the ‘verification letter’ I bring in looks like the PDF original that they already have on their file server, and that the emailed scanned copy of my CASA license and medical I sent them 90 days earlier looks like the copy that just arrived on paper from Australia.
There is a substantial added cost (and time) impost here: The FAA form might only require ‘ten minutes’ to fill out, but you then need to make an in-person trip to the USA to finish the process. That trip needs to be set up to happen “45 to 90 days” plus “at least two weeks” after the 3 months its already taken me to get this far.
Good thing I’m not in a hurry.
But…what the heck. I’m up for a challenge 🙂