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How do I renew my pilot’s license?

Posted by on October 27, 2009 38 Comments Category : Flight Instructor Blog

Robert wrote me this morning asking:

I stopped flying over 20 years ago and would like to start again. What do I need to do to get reissued my license?

Hi Robert,

First off, congratulations on making the decision to start flying again. There have been some really neat advances in technology since 1989, especially in avionics. If you get the chance to fly a newer airplane, it’ll blow your socks off!

There are 4 different federal aviation regulations that pertain to your question:

  1. § 61.19 Duration of pilot and instructor certificates
  2. § 61.2 Exercise of Privilege
  3. § 61.23   Medical certificates: Requirement and duration.
  4. § 61.56 Flight Review
  5. § 61.57 Recent Flight Experience : Pilot in command

I know it sounds like a lot of boring legalize to go through, but it’s really not that bad. Let’s take these one-by-one and then make a plan-of-action to get you back in the cockpit.

Read the rest of this post by clicking the “continue” link:

The Regs:

1) § 61.19 Duration of Pilot Certificates (link):

Good news, according to § 61.19 your private pilot certificate (technically not a license) does not have an expiration date (as long as it was issued after July 1, 1945):

(c) Other pilot certificates. A pilot certificate (other than a student pilot certificate) issued under this part is issued without a specific expiration date.

However, there is a little catch near the end in paragraph (g):

(g) Duration of pilot certificates. Except for a temporary certificate issued under §61.17 or a student pilot certificate issued under paragraph (b) of this section, the holder of a paper pilot certificate issued under this part may not exercise the privileges of that certificate after March 31, 2010.

You see, the FAA is moving towards plastic pilot certificates. So, in our plan of action below, we’ll want to make sure we cover the instructions for getting exchanging your paper certificate for a new plastic certificate.

2) § 61.2 Exercise of Privilege (link)

The first paragraph (a)  hopefully doesn’t apply to you but take a look at paragraph (b):

(b) Currency. No person may:

(1) Exercise privileges of an airman certificate, rating, endorsement, or authorization issued under this part unless that person meets the appropriate airman and medical recency requirements of this part, specific to the operation or activity.

This regulation is saying that you need to be “recent”, both medically and as an airman.  So let’s look at the medical requirements and then the airman requirements.

3. § 61.23   Medical certificates: Requirement and duration (link).

A private pilot certificate requires a third-class medical certificate.  If you are over 40, then your medical certificate expires on the last day after the 24th calendar month when it was issued.

You’ll notice that in the plan-of-action below, getting your new medical is the first step.  You’ll want to make sure that there hasn’t been any medical or health activity in the past 20 years that would preclude you from flying again.  Once you get a third class medical, now we can talk about getting you current as an airman.

4. § 61.56 Flight Review (link)

This reg is really the meat of the matter.  Besides medically, complying with this regulation is what has stopped you from being a active pilot.  This regulation requires that:

(c) … no person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft unless, since the beginning of the 24th calendar month before the month in which that pilot acts as pilot in command, that person has—

(1) Accomplished a flight review given in an aircraft for which that pilot is rated by an authorized instructor…

A flight review consists of at least 1 hour of ground and flight training.   Your instructor is required to cover at minimum general and part 91 operating rules in addition to anything else that might be applicable.  One of the areas that I’m sure your flight instructor will spend quite a bit of time with is airspace since there have been many changes to the airspace system since you stopped flying.

Your flight review will also include at least 1 hour of flight training, but again, be prepared for more.  Your instructor will go over maneuvers and procedures that are applicable for your certificate level.  Your instructor is required to make sure that you can safely exercise the privileges of your certificate.

To help get you ready for the Flight Review, AOPA has produced a guide called the “Pilot’s Guide to the Flight Review” which you can download for free.  It has a lot of very helpful information to help you get ready for your BFR.

5) § 61.57 Recent Flight Experience : Pilot in command (link)

The last check box we want to cover is the requirement for recent flight experience.  Before you can carry passengers as pilot-in-command you’ll need to accomplish 3 takeoffs and landings within the preceding 90 days.  If you are planning as on flying as PIC at night with passengers, those takeoffs and landings must be performed at night (duh) and to a full stop.  I would recommend that you ask your flight instructor who will be conducting your flight review to also make sure that you complete the requirements of this regulation as well.

Plan of Action:

Ok, so now that we have covered all the boring (but required) legalize, here is a suggested plan for getting you back in the cockpit:

1) Call an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) and schedule an appointment for obtaining your FAA medical certificate.  If the scheduler asks, you’re looking for a 3rd class medical.  Both the FAA and AOPA have a handy “Find a AME” tool that you can use to find an Aviation Medical Examiner in your area.

2) Once you have a current medical certificate in hand.  Call a CFI and schedule a biennial flight review (BFR).   If you’re looking for a CFI, again AOPA has a search tool for that too.  You might already have a CFI, flight school or FBO that you already comfortable using.  AOPA also has produced a guide call the “Pilot’s Guide to the Flight Review” which you can download.

3) Apply for your new plastic certificate.  You can do so directly on the FAA website or via snail mail.  The instructions are listed here.


  1. Sylvia on Oct 27, 2009

    Oh ouch! I’m glad you posted about this – I have an FAA license and I presume I’m going to have to actually do something to keep it valid.

    I suspect as I don’t live in the U.S. I’ll have some interesting hoops to jump through!

  2. Paul on Oct 27, 2009


    Since you don’t live in the U.S. and your FAA certificate was probably issued under a exception or provision, I would consult the Code of Federal Regulations for yourself to see what is applicable.

    There is a good chance that by maintaining your pilot proficiency following the rules in your country that it will count towards proficiency for your FAA license as well but again, I’d consult the regs to be sure.

    Thanks for reading and commenting. I love getting comments from pilots all over the world and especially from you! Thanks again.


  3. James on Oct 29, 2009

    Thank you for posting this. I too am in the same situation. I obtained my PPL in 1997 and have decided to get back into the cockpit. This is great information and I appreciate the Action Plan.

  4. ojesh on Nov 02, 2009

    i am studing A levels and want to get a (PPL) two engined airplane for example:- beechcraft (kingair-350) or for any stream jets.But as i am a overseas student i may need banking finance according to the fee structure. but first of all i am confused in choosing flying schools in usa

  5. ojesh on Nov 02, 2009

    I am studing A levels and want to get a (PPL) two engined airplane for example:- beechcraft (kingair-350) or for any stream jets. But as i am a overseas student i may need banking finance according to the fee structure of the aviation school.However, i am confused in choosing the best school in the U.S.A and need help

  6. Christopher on Nov 16, 2009

    Don’t forget about Sport Pilot. If you have a valid drivers license, you don’t need to renew your third-class medical to fly with Sport Pilot privledges.

  7. Paul on Nov 19, 2009

    Good point Chris. If your getting back into flying and don’t anticipate using all the privileges of a private pilot certificate a sport pilot certificate might be just the ticket! And as Chris pointed out, you wouldn’t need to go get a new FAA medical you could simply use your driver’s license

  8. CFI Academy on Dec 11, 2009

    Nice article and very informative and for those of you who just have a student pilot certificate, don’t forget that expires within 24 calendar months. Then if you are under 40 and you get your student pilot certificate with your medical certificate, then don’t forget to get a new student pilot certificate even though your medical will not expire for another 36 calendar months.

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  10. abdul on Mar 16, 2010

    hi sir
    do an examiner(multi eng. airplane -commercial)need to be recent to carry out checks for pilots on flight simulator?

    if so what is the minimum requirements needed ? whats is your refrences as in faa-jaa-icao

    note:recency means didnot fullfil the requirment of 3 take/off landings in 90 days
    thank u

  11. Art on Aug 08, 2010

    Hello Paul:

    It seems that I came to the right place.

    I have a kind of “similar” question but I just have one question.

    I completed my ground school back in 1999. I got my Written Test results at the end of the same year. I logged several hours on a C152 in 2000 , I have my Written Test results, ground school results, Log book signed by my intsructor, dated, description, etc. and as such, I got my Third Class Medical Certificate.

    It is clear for me ( beacuse of the 24/36 months’ regultation) thay it is imperative for me to get my Third Class Medical Ceritifcate FIRST, But my question is: do I have to take the Written Test back again ??. I do not mind taking it at all, but I am just wondering if an endorsment by the CFI will do it or do I have to retake it ??

    By the way, I have already established a contact with my “potential” CFI, its just that we have not had the chance to met personally yet due to some travelling and time constarints from my part.

    But quite happy and excited to get back in order to get my Private and later on, my Instruments rating.

    I would like to “do my homwork first” before I met my CFI.

    In addition to my question, am I missing something else on my “Action Plan” ??

    Thanks again and regards,


  12. Bill on Sep 22, 2010

    I hold a ATP AMEL with 6 Type ratings. I have Commercial priv. ASEL. I let my CFI-II ASMEL expire. I would like to get in the air again in something like a C-182/172. I could care less about my MEL, but would like to get my IFR up to speed. It’s been about 30 years since I’ve flown a SEL piston aircraft. Most of my 24,000 hrs has been in Turbo-Props and Jet Powered AC. I retired out of a Cit-10 in May 2006, and I haven’t flown since. Will I make it OK??

  13. Chris Findley on Oct 06, 2010

    After earning my Private, Commercial, Multi, and CFI, I had a 12 year hiatus from flying.

    I remember well the aprehension and the process for getting back into the cockpit. It’s not as difficult as you may think, though it does require some work and some time. It was amazing to me that so much really did come back, especially in flying the airplane.

    After renewing my CFI, I wanted to help others return to the air as I had. That’s part of what prompted me to form myFlightCoach.com. One of the courses I offer there is called, “Return to Flight” which is live one-on-one coaching/instruction for those transitioning back into flight. I can work with anyone with an internet connection and would love to help more people renew their wings.

    I am continually developing and refining this process so I’d love feedback on the concept as well as to encourage any of you returning to 1.) Do it! and 2.) Contact me if I can help.

    If you want to go further, check out my “Return to Flight” Course. Mention you saw this here and I’ll give you a 20% discount if you choose the “Return to Flight” Course.

    Here’s the link: http://myflightcoach.com/coaching-ground-school/return-to-flight/

    I won’t make such direct invitations normally, but helping folks get back in the cockpit is one of the things I love to do most.


  14. george mcfatter on Jan 25, 2011

    I would like to renew my license, however I have lost my log book. Is that going to be a problem? thanks

  15. Jon sharpe on Sep 22, 2011

    What is a so called new license. Mine was issued in 46 and at time earl said it was for ever.

  16. Jon sharpe on Sep 22, 2011

    What is a so called paper license?

  17. Megither on Feb 06, 2012

    Is the license expire by day or by the end of the month.

  18. Gerald on Mar 23, 2012

    Just the info I was looking for. Thanks Paul. I probably top the list here, with about 30 years out of the seat. In fact Jon, I have one of those “paper licence,” issued in 1979. It contains the usual personal info, physical description, SSN, and appears to be manually typed, without a photo image and lamination. Mine is just a bit larger than a credit card, with all the gov’t lingo, FAA insignia and states, “Has been found to be properly qualified to exercise the privileges of Private Pilot [rating and limitations here].'”

  19. Gene on Apr 09, 2012

    Got ya beat, Gerald,

    Mine was issued in May of 1976 – a little dog eared but still there! I attempted to obtain a replacement through the online process and received a message that my “Certificate was ineligible for online renewal”. Not sure what that means, but I filled out the form and sent that in.

  20. Gene on Apr 09, 2012

    Hmmm…. I’ve been reading the regs and as usual there is some ambiguity here. First a certificate never expires, then there is a “PAPER” certificated pilots may not exercise aircrew duties under that certificate after March 31st, 2013. Then there is “Paper to Plastic” rule that states it should have been done by March 31st of 2010.

    Does this mean if you did NOT get it completed by March 31, 2010 you are S.O.L.? I am surprised there is no alternate recourse on this, but maybe it’s the case……..



  21. JACK RIDER on Jun 11, 2012


  22. Roy on Jul 10, 2012

    You could not use your paper certificate after March 31, 2010, but you can still get your plastic one with no problems. My original was issued in 1977. I haven’t flown since 1996, and I just applied yesterday (09 July, 2012) on line to get a plastic certificate. Normally it’s $2. but if you are requesting to take your SSN off, it’s free. They will send you a plastic certificate with a new number. Estimated time to delivery was two weeks. In todays times where it seems like every thing is way more expensive than it should be, what a great surprise it was to get something so important for free!

  23. Robert Lahey on Oct 22, 2012

    I am in my 78th year and having passed the private pilot recency test in2002 and flew solo locally, London, Ontario, Canada. If i pass the medical,do think I’m too old to do it again just for self satisfaction ?

  24. Robert Jones on Dec 10, 2012

    I lost my private pilots certificate 20 years ago in a house fire, I have not flown since but would like to start again,how would I get a copy of my certificate?

    Hope you can help

    Bob, J.

  25. Christian on Jan 22, 2013

    I have a question, I got my pilots license in March of 2010. I have the plastic license. I have not flown in 2 years but I want to get back up and fly. What do I need to do and what are the requirements? Will I have to fly with a CFI every month or if I do my 3 minimum touch and goes every 90 is that all? If I do stay current with my 90 days can I take passengers?

  26. Sipi on Mar 14, 2013

    Hie Paul,
    I have a commercial pilot’ s licence issued under ICAO regulations in Zimbabawe. I would really like to start flying again in the United Kingdom, the last time I flew a plane was 12 years ago in Africa. I don’t know where to start just the thought of it all is overwhelming ,any advice please.
    Thank you.

  27. Rick on Sep 14, 2013

    I am a 68 year old man who is retired and would like to get back into flying for enjoyment, excitement, and fun. I have not flown in 33 years, but i have both private and commercial certificates and an instrument rating in fixed wing single engine aircrart. Once I receive a 3rd class medical, what would you suggest would be the most recommended way to start over?

  28. Theodore Green on Oct 15, 2013

    My original SEL private license, 106541, was granted in 1941, under the CPT program, and reissued on 09-25-68. I have flown only a bit since.

    I now have the opportunity to fly again providing I can pass the 3rd class medical.

    Can my license be renewed

  29. Arun on May 27, 2014

    I got my FAA CPL on June 2009, which says ” English Proficient”. I got my IGI & AGI issued on April 2010 and CFI issued on may 2010.( English Proficiency is not mentioned ). I had converted my FAA CPL to Canadian CPL on Nov 2011 and it expires on August 2014. Now, when I trying to renew my Canadian license, they got to me saying that I need to renew my ELP ( Aviation English Language Proficiency ) since it expires on July 2014. ( They had issued ELP based on FAA Cpl issued on jun 2009 having a validity of 5 yrs ). I had scanned my FAA CPL and sent it across but they refused saying it was issued in 2009.

    I am in India. Is there any option for me to contact FAA for this issue. Since there is No validity mentioned on FAA CPL, the ” Language Proficiency” holds good as long as my medicals is valid ( Class 3rd med expires on oct 2016). It would be a costly and time consuming process to go all the way to Canada to renew the ELP ( Aviation document expires on August 2014).

    Can anyone help me on this?

    Thank you.

  30. Howard alford on Nov 08, 2014

    Thanks Paul,
    I haven’t acted as PIC in 33 years. I did get the new license after 9/11/01 my medical and a basic flight review.

  31. Kurt Schaible on Feb 18, 2015

    I do have a US PPL issued in the US.
    A also do have a current German and Namibian one.
    Is my current German medical valid in the US in order to fly?
    Kind regards, Kurt

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  33. jerry e. tekell on Nov 17, 2016

    I had heart surgery in 1997 and therefore my private pilot license was revoked. Is there any way I can get back into the air legally, now that I have had no health issues since the surgery?

  34. William P. Etheridge on Feb 05, 2017

    I have a commercial & Instruments license. I want to get re-approved for most of these certificates.

    How do I go about this ?

  35. craig on Apr 30, 2017

    Hello, I haven’t flown since 2002 when I received my PPL at Fort Lauderdale Executive. I’m an Australian living in Hong Kong. I had my wallet stolen in 2005 which had my licence in it. How do I get a new licence and will there be any problems at all, other than those you’ve already mentioned in your article above, in getting back in the air? I’m 50.

  36. Joseph KAFAH on Jul 03, 2017

    I GOT MY pvt. pilot license in 1968.I have not flew in 40 years. I recieved my plastic license on14 june 2017. what do I have to do to be able to fly again.

  37. John D Collins on Jul 04, 2017


    Paul has nailed it in his write up. First obtain a third class physical. Then find an instructor to get you comfortable with flying again and obtain your flight review. It has been so long since you last flew, I would recommend you purchase one of the on line pilot pilot training courses and learn about all the changes.

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