There will be paperwork

After leaving a phone message and receiving the requested call-back from a fully qualified staff member, I was able to make an appointment to visit a critical government facility here in central Florida. On the appointed day I motored over to the semi-secret location and rode the elevator to the floor where I had been instructed my appointment would take place. Put another way, I visited the Orlando Flight Standards District Office.

The incentive for my visit was the renewal of my flight instructor certificate. No matter what you do in aviation, there will be paperwork.

Lots of paperwork, frankly. Little, if any, of it is intuitive and much of it seems unnecessary. Yet there it is. Paperwork. Piles and piles of paperwork that must be filed, so it can be processed, so that we can prove we have done something of note. Primarily, it seems the thing we’ve done is fill out forms and file them.

Sharp readers will notice I continue to use the old-fashioned term paperwork. Call me a Luddite if you will. I like hard copies. Real paper. If I’m going to spend hours filling out forms, proofreading them to be sure they’re accurate, filing them for future reference, and waiting for a response of some sort based on the presentation of those forms, I want to hold something tangible in my hand. Something weighty. Something substantial. There should be evidence that I did something. Evidence that can’t be wiped away by a magnet, or a power-surge, or a bad wifi connection. I want proof, darn it.

Admittedly, I’m a dinosaur. I’m also a hypocrite. It’s true. I’ve written only one novel that’s available in paperback format. Yet I’m working on the fourth installment of a series that is available exclusively in Ebook format. Even the paperback novel is available as an Ebook for Kindle. I use the magic of the Internet more than most and produce textual content on a daily basis that exists only in electronic form.

So how do I square my disdain of electronic filing systems with my preference for hard copies? That’s simple. I don’t. I accept that I’m out of step with the rest of the modern world, at least philosophically. I swallow my pride, fire up the computer, and file my forms electronically…most of the time.

Filing electronically is faster than filing with paper. It’s reasonably safe and provides the opportunity for unlimited copies without ever touching the first piece of carbon paper. Those of a certain age will appreciate that reference. The more youthful reader may feel free to experience some slight confusion and count this as further evidence of my backward nature.

With my completed paperwork in hand I toddled off to the Orlando FSDO knowing full well that they would prefer me to file my paperwork via IACRA. This Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application is the newest and definitely the preferred method of filing the 8710 form every pilot applicant has to prepare and present when they arrive for a practical test.

I opted not to use IACRA for a very specific reason, even though I’ve used it before. I wanted to experience first hand what happens when you’re behind the times. Rather than simply guess at the process of renewing a flight instructor ticket the old-fashioned way, I decided to actually do it.

It was my goal to suffer the glare of contempt that comes from the FAA representative who will have to re-type my 8710 personally. I hoped to find out whether it takes longer to file the form on paper than it would had I entered the exact same information using IACRA.

As it turns out, it does. It takes quite a bit longer, as a matter of fact. And there is a higher likelihood of mistakes working their way into your forms. Mistakes that take more effort to correct. They take even more time and effort if you aren’t sharp enough to catch the error while you’re still in the FSDO itself. Once you’ve left and hit the street, it’s like going to the back of the line.

Hooo boy, it would have been easier to go the electronic route. Absolutely it would. I know. I do. I truly, honestly, really do know what I’m talking about. Heed my warning, y’all. Ditch the paper and go electronic. You’ll be glad you did.

There was a time, early in my career as an instructor, that black pens were paramount. Any other color was unacceptable. That 8710 would find its way back to you if you filled it out using blue, or purple, or green ink. The FAA has no use for colorful people. They want black and white, block letters, carefully filled out forms, and supremely compliant applicants.

Today that’s all changed. Well, in a way it’s changed. There’s still paperwork. Lots of paperwork, although it’s digital now. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to fill it out correctly, the FAA way, every single time.

So if you’re a fence-sitting Luddite like me, find a way to change your outlook. You’ll be glad you did.

As for me, I’m still working on getting my address changed back to what it’s been for more than 20 years. A typo did me in. A typo made by somebody else, on my application, because I wanted to find out what it was like to go old-school in a brave new IACRA compliant world.

There will be paperwork, but there will be no paper. Not for me. Not anymore.


  1. Greg W says

    Jamie, When I interviewed for my inspection authorization this winter the first question was ,”do you have a pen?”. I did ,black at that, and so the interview continued. The I.A. is, I believe, the last paper certificate that the FAA issues, it must be signed by a FSDO A.S.I. every two years. I just thought you may like to know that we still have real “paper work” in the maintenance side of things. Many of our forms (337 etc) can, but do not have to, be filed electronically,much like your 8710.

  2. Len Assante says

    Sigh… What a waste of human potential and spirit. I work for a state agency, so I know the drill, albeit on a 1/50 scale compared to the massive monolith we call the US Government. I’ve found that many people in such positions work out of a combination of fear and laziness. Fear over losing their jobs at an agency overwhelmed with mandates from above (the legislature), steeped in politics, and with slews of lawyers looking over every shoulder, ever-vigilant in the quest for “risk mitigation.” Laziness because we all hate paperwork and lust after the little shortcut that might just save us from filling out yet another form. And let’s face it, filling out, typing in, and reading forms is not exactly the stuff that exciting dreams are made of. Probably not on page one of the “work for the FAA” brochure.
    I used to love politics, the intrigue, the strategy, the mining of data about the electorate, the high of winning, the low of losing. But since it seems to have seeped into so much of what we do, and so it has bred a culture of fear in so many workplaces, I’ve washed my hands of it mostly.
    My local FSDO has always been helpful, and almost cheery on occasion, so I can’t complain much. But government work is not for the feint of heart. A cheery hello when you slide your paperwork across the desk is asking quite a bit these days. Because you know, the lawyers/politicians might object…

  3. Jeff Aryan says

    The real question is : Who dreams this stuff up ? The whole idea is to communicate an idea or answer not make so someone has a mind reader. Come on guys, use some “Common Sense” not some other form of your idea of proper English.

  4. Christopher Freeze says

    You really want to see an inspector go crazy on a CFI renewal with an 8710? Put in your aeronautical experience… I did so on my first in-person renewal and was greeted with the expected “You don’t have to do that.”
    “But I want there to be a record in case I lost my logbook or something…” I state.
    The inspector retorted, “Then I will need copies of the proof of these hours.”
    Ready, I coyly slide my logbook across the table. “Since I don’t know exactly which pages you do and don’t want copies of – here ya go. Enjoy!”
    The expression on the inspector’s face was priceless.
    Haltingly, she spoke. “I… I… think there is a way I can do it without. Be right back.”
    Needless to say, twenty later later, I had a freshly-printed and renewed CFI certificate.
    It’s the little victories that bring the smiles… 😉

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