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FAA to require photos, but no biometric info, on pilot's licenses

Published 23 November 2010

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed that all pilot certificates include a photo of the licensee, but one lawmaker wants to know why the passport-size cards will not include biometric identification five years after Congress passed a law requiring such unique identifiers

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed that all pilot certificates include a photo of the licensee, but one lawmaker wants to know why the passport-size cards will not include biometric identification five years after Congress passed a law requiring such unique identifiers.

On 18 November, FAA said in a news release that under the proposed rule, pilots would obtain new certificates on which their photograph would appear along with an expiration date currently proposed at eight years. At the end of that period, pilots would be required to update their photo and obtain a new certificate.

Nextgov reports that when the proposal is finalized, all new pilot certificates would include a photo and incumbent pilots would have three to five years to replace their existing license, which currently do not include personal photos, or biometric identifiers.

The 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, Public Law 108-458, mandated FAA by December 2005 to begin issuing improved pilot licenses that included a photograph of the licensee and were capable of accommodating a digital photograph, biometric identifier, “or any other unique identifier.”

Representative John Mica (R-Florida0, in a letter last Friday to FAA administrator Randy Babbitt, said he was “astounded” to hear details of the proposed rule. Mica was the author of the provision in the act that required secure licenses and is considered likely to become chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

He urged FAA to “fulfill [their] obligation to implement the law as intended by Congress. By failing to require the new pilot licenses to be biometrically enabled, FAA is again ignoring a clear mandate to improve security,” Mica wrote.

That the FAA continues to ignore the benefits of biometric technology and fails to pursue timely implementation of the biometric mandate is completely unacceptable,” he continued.

FAA is aware of Mica’s concern and “will carefully consider all comments to our proposal,” spokeswoman Alison Duquette said. “But we are requiring a photo ID, which we think is very important,” she added. “We do feel our proposal meets the intent of the legislation.”

Public comments must be received by 17 February 2011, and depending on how many comments are received, a rule, which could be revised, will be finalized, Duquette said.

An aviation security expert agreed with Mica that the licenses need more than photos. Using only a photograph makes things a little bit safer, but biometrics “would geometrically lower the probability of a successful terrorist attack,” Richard Bloom, vice president for academics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, Arizona, told Nextgov.

It depends on what type of biometric is chosen, Bloom added, and though no one can guarantee 100 percent protection against an attack, a biometric component “goes much closer to where we want to be than just having a pilot photo,” he said.