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Obtaining the FAA PPL and IR

These notes, current in 2015, contain really useful information on the process
of obtaining these in the USA.

Current licence: EASA ATPL with ME/IR

Why the FAA PPL?

I suddenly had access to an N reg aircraft, and I wanted to tour with this
aircraft around Europe. The aim was therefore to obtain the FAA PPL with an
Instrument Rating (IR).

Why the IR?

For touring and to generate more flying days in Europe.

I had no idea whatsoever of where to start, and so spent many hours researching
the options. The following describes the path I took, and in places the reasoning
behind it. From start to finish, the process took about 6 months, albeit a lot
of that time was spent just waiting for paperwork to be completed.

Step 1 – FAA Medical

Set up an account at
Go to FAA certified Avmed Doctor, pay money, and complete a fairly rudimentary
Cost of medical… USD 100

Step 2 – Decide on a school and timescales

This was two to three weeks of research.

I would say this the single most important decision you have to make. It is
just too hard to split the training between Europe and the USA, so I elected
to take two sessions and to complete the PPL in the first period, coming back
to the USA a month later to complete the IR.

I looked online for schools with good reviews and then researched the reviews
(both the good and the bad). I took little interest in schools advertising the
lowest or “guaranteed” cost; it is just impossible to predict, and
even if it looks cheap initially, when you add on all the extra charges, there
is very little in it. The US aviation industry is so competitive that if you
can find a school that has been around a while, then the chances are that it
is doing a good job. I avoided large sausage-machine flight schools, and I took
on board personal recommendations. I made a shortlist and called those schools
to discuss my goals. I finally selected a school based on cost, equipment and
instructor availability, and last but not least, a school that was not shy to
tell me where my aims were unrealistic. It was a bonus (for me) that the school
was on the West coast – in Long Beach, California.

Flying hours are at good times of the day, a helpful FSDO is just down the
road, and although the flying was more expensive (due to a busy circuit, and
longer transits for tests, training areas, etc), the aircraft were excellent
(C172s with G1000), and with good, guaranteed availability.

Step 3 – TSA clearance

This involved two hours of admin –

The school assisted me with this. I opened up two training requests, one for
the PPL, the other for the IR. Cost for each training request was USD 130 (total
cost USD 260).

Step 4 – Fingerprinting in support of the TSA application

This was another two weeks of research, but once an appointment was made, a
20 minute process.

I put in a lot of research, as prices are set by the agents collecting the
fingerprints and they varied wildly. I would without hesitation recommend Eve
Humrich –

Unfortunately, the process is royally painful:

Wait for AFSP to e-mail you with instructions to get fingerprinted.
Set up a NATACS account – – and of course, pay money.
USD 200?
Find a fingerprinting agent that you wish to use. Eve Humrich ([email protected])
is very efficient, will walk you through the NATACS process, and has one of
the lower charges of the agents (USD110 / Euro 100). She visits the UK regularly
and fingerprinting can be done there. I had mine taken in CDG airport whilst
waiting for a flight.
Meet Eve, be fingerprinted, and for me, four hours later, the fingerprints had
been received by the TSA, and my TSA application was complete. One set of fingerprints
suffice for the two training requests.

Step 5 – Apply for a piggyback PPL with the FAA

This was another day of admin, and eventually an hour to pick up the licence
in the USA.

Technically, there was no need for me to go through this stage as I was in
any case going to get the standalone PPL. However, it was reasonably straightforward
and would allow me to do some purely recreational flying in the USA whilst visiting
on holiday. – SRG1160 (application form) and SRG1187 (payment form). Pay
– obtain and send Form AC 8060-71.

Cost – free. I sent mine off in the post.

The FAA uses your application to correspond with the CAA. If the CAA has processed
your forms, then they release the required information to the FAA. This process
is transparent to you. I sent off both forms in the post at the same time and
then received a letter about 6 weeks later telling me to call the FSDO to make
an appointment to collect the licence. Riverside FSDO were very helpful and
were able to fit me on any day, but they do need an appointment – they will
not let you through the door unless you have one. Once there, the licence was
prepared for me on the spot.

Step 6 – Groundschool

As part of the standalone PPL and again with the IR, you have to pass a multiple
choice exam in both subjects. Fortunately I decided to purchase a groundschool
preparation course, and I was extremely thankful that I did so. The subjects
are not terribly hard as such, but you do need to be familiar with the language
of the exam. There are several products out there, but I elected to use Gleim

Each syllabus came at a cost of USD 100. Do not select the “141”

Online Ground School: Private Pilot
Online Ground School: Instrument Pilot

I spent many hours studying the material, but without doing so, I believe I
would have failed the knowledge tests. Once you complete these courses, you
get a Certificate of Completion that you will need to show before you are even
allowed to take the test. Thanks to Gleim, the tests were a fairly straightforward
affair with no major surprises.

Step 7 – 10 days holiday in the USA and a PPL

The flying costs came to approx USD3000, plus the test fee USD500.

I flew in on the Sunday and spent Monday morning meeting the school. I took
both tests in the afternoon.

For the tests, I registered a week beforehand with Lasergrade –
However, the testing centre would have been happy for me to just walk in or
phone them directly. Other testing centres might not be so flexible. I used
Sunset Flying in Long Beach. Cost… USD 130 per exam. I also used the day to
pick up my piggyback PPL from the local FSDO.

Tuesday to Friday was spent flying. 90 minutes of flying, and about 2 hours
of groundschool with an instructor taking me through the FAA Flight Test Standards.
There was a lot to learn, both in the air and on the ground. I had about 700
hours in light aircraft, but the flying was challenging and the learning curve
steep. It was not a walk in the park. However, the school have seen it all before
and guided me through the process with understanding and patience. After 8 hours
in the air, I was considered ready for the checkride.

Sunday was spent flying up to a local airport to meet the Designated Pilot
Examiner (DPE) at 1000. 2 hours of oral examination and reviewing my paperwork,
test results and application form. At 1300 we got airborne for a 75 minute checkride.
The debrief was complete by 1530, and we flew home by 1700. It was a long day.
I had flown for 10 hours, had received 10 hours ground instruction, and 9 hours
of flight instruction. I left for home a day or two later, giving me a few days
to relax and to really enjoy the holiday.

Step 8 – another holiday, and an instrument rating

The flying costs came to approx USD3000 plus the test fee of USD500.

I was by now familiar with the aircraft and the avionics suite (having flown
the aircraft for my PPL training). The C172 with G1000 and integrated autopilot
was an excellent platform on which to learn. Although with a current IR on my
EASA licence, the single engine flying was a different animal entirely, and
I was glad indeed that I had the G1000 up front. For the IR test, only one level
of failure is given, so when the main screen “fails”, you simply press
the big red button and use the right hand screen to fly the approaches with
normal displays.

A lot of new things to learn, and another steep learning curve, so I was glad
to have all the exam work behind me when I arrived. There were a lot of new
approaches for me to get my head around. I started training on the Monday, and
took the test on Saturday.

Test profile (which was fully briefed before the test):

1. Oral examination based on a 5 sector IFR flight (90 minutes).
2. Wear “foggles” for the take off roll and once airborne, look down
and transfer to instruments. Engage autopilot. Depart to the North VFR, with
the Examiner providing the necessary lookout.
3. Track direct to FIM VOR whilst under a basic service with Point Mugu.
4. Right turn at 7DME, track the arc and exit on a nominated radial (a breeze
with the G1000 and moving map).
5. Vectors to ILS RW 25 Oxnard. Disengage the autopilot prior to the LOC intercept.
At decision altitude, look up and land.
6. Roll into the missed approach procedure. Once airborne, heads down onto instruments
again, and engage autopilot. Perform the missed approach procedure published
HOLD (again a breeze with the G1000 and autopilot flying the entire procedure).
7. Radar vectors for the RNAV (GPS) RW 07 from UVICA. G1000 procedure, autopilot
flown. Go-around or roll into a non-standard missed approach. (VFR departure
to the North).
8. Close eyes, look down. Examiner flies a couple of manoeuvres. Full panel
recovery from unusual positions (UPs). Nothing wild or silly.
9. On final UP, look up to find main PFD inop. Push red button and fly the recovery
on the right hand screen (which is now a regular PFD).
10. Examiner now required the remainder of the flight to be conducted without
autopilot. This surprised me as only one approach is required to be flown without
autopilot. However, the G1000 is easy to fly, even when the display is on the
right hand screen.
11. Radar vectors for the VOR RW26 Camarillo (manually flown). Down to minimums,
look up and complete the landing. (Landings are not part of the examination).
12. Debrief and paperwork.

The entire focus of the training and testing is on sensible, pragmatic decision
making and safe flying. It teaches relevant skills and tests them to a sensible
standard. The learning curve was steep, and it was hard work. However, the end
result is a full PPL and an IR that remains current as long as 6 approaches
and a hold are flown every 6 months. Even if this is not achieved, than as long
as the 6 approaches are flown within a year, then the IR continues. An approved
training device may even be used for the purpose of maintaining or re-establishing
recency. In the USA, this will cost about USD90 an hour and would need 2 hours
of flight time.

In closing I would like to point out that the training was done as part of
a holiday in the USA. The school I used were entirely happy with that (and in
fact suggested to me that I should do it on this basis). No I-20 visa admin
was required; I simply took a couple of holidays. It made the administrative
process significantly easier. If I was to summarise a few key points it would
be this:

Go to the USA to do the training. Train in the environment where you will be
Choose the Flight School very carefully; don’t choose solely on the basis of
cost. There are no significant savings that can be made without risking the
quality of training you receive.
A good flight school will look at your experience and logged (instrument) hours,
and should come up with a realistic, sensible training plan.
And finally….

Choose your Flight School very carefully! I was extremely happy with mine,
but there are horror stories out there about a few rotten eggs.

Contributed by Paul, May 2015