An airman certificate is a certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to persons qualified to authorize such persons to serve in the capacity for which the certificate was issued. It establishes that the holder of such certificate meets a specific set of knowledge and experience requirements, which is generally determined through investigation.
In Bullwinkel v. United States Dep’t of Transp., Federal Aviation Admin., 787 F.2d 254 (7th Cir. 1986), the court observed that “ National Transportation Safety Board definitions provide that “airman certificate” means any certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to an airman and shall include medical certificates required for an airman. Thus, the airman medical certificate is definitionally part of an FAA certificate or other form of permission, and hence a license for purposes of the Equal Access to Justice Act.”
Without an airman certificate a person may not serve in any capacity as an airman with respect to a civil aircraft, aircraft engine, propeller, or appliance used, or intended for use, in air commerce. The burden of proving eligibility for an airman certificate, including a medical certificate, usually rests with the applicant.
Generally, an application for an airman certificate must be submitted under oath when required by the administrator of the FAA. The application must be in the form, contain information, and be filed and served in the way the administrator prescribes[i].
While issuing an airman certificate, the administrator must adhere to the following[ii]:
- consider the duty of an air carrier to provide service with the highest possible degree of safety in the public interest, and the differences between air transportation and other air commerce; and
- classify a certificate according to the differences between air transportation and other air commerce.
An airman certificate issued by the administrator must[iii]:
- be numbered and recorded by the administrator;
- contain the name, address, and description of the individual to whom the certificate is issued;
- contain terms which the administrator decides are necessary to ensure safety in air commerce, including terms on the duration of the certificate, periodic or special examination, and tests of physical fitness;
- specify the capacity in which the holder of the certificate may serve as an airman with respect to an aircraft; and
- designate the class the certificate covers.
However, airman certificates are denied[iv]:
- to all applicants whose medical condition makes them unable to safely perform the duties or exercise the privileges of an airman’s certificate;
- to an alien; and
- to an individual whose certificate is revoked for controlled substance violations.
The administrator also has broad discretion to suspend airman certificates upon a determination that the safety and the public interest so require. Such authority can be used for the purpose of suspending an airman certificate as a disciplinary sanction for violation of federal aviation regulations[v].
[i] 49 USCS § 44702(a).
[ii] 49 USCS § 44702(b).
[iii] 49 USCS § 44703(b)(1).
[iv] Delta Air Lines, Inc. v. United States, 490 F. Supp. 907 (N.D. Ga. 1980).
[v] Komjathy v. National Transp. Safety Bd., 832 F.2d 1294 (D.C. Cir. 1987).