In the wake of 9/11, the US has implemented a screening for potential flight students.
US citizens must present proof of citizenship prior to starting training. A passport is the easiest form of identification. Your instructor will generally note your passport number and put an endorsement in your logbook to meet TSA requirements
Non-US citizens must go through a TSA screening process prior to starting flight training. As of 2012, I have found this process can be completed in 1-2 weeks and a little over $200.
Select a Training Provider
The training provider is integral to the TSA’s screening process. In most cases, the training provider is an FBO or flight training company. In the case of AACIT, each instructor is registered as a training provider.
Registration and Data Entry
Start by going to the TSA Alien Flight Student Program web site. Select the “Create New Student Account” link. You will be asked to enter all of your immigration and historical address information. You will need to either scan and upload your documents, or fax them in. Be very careful during data entry, as a single typo on the wrong field can cause your application to be rejected.
There are a few fields that may not be obvious. Here’s the recommended selections for each: Student ID: if you have already joined AACIT, enter your five character club ID; otherwise, leave it blank.
Course ID: 101 (this is a default for the TSA)
Class Name: Catgegory 3 (this is for initial training in small airplanes like a Cessna 172)
Estimated Start Date: I recommend entering a date 1-2 weeks in the future, unless there is a specific later date you plan to start training
Estimate End Date: I recommend entering the latest date it will allow (365 days in the future).
Once you have entered and uploaded all the necessary information, the application is routed to the training provider for confirmation. While the TSA should send the training provider (instructor) an email, I recommend a personal follow-up email. The training provider will confirm that he knows you and that the request is valid.
After the provider confirmation is entered, you should receive an email, now requesting that you pay the $130 application fee. Once you have done this, the first waiting period begins. The TSA will do a basic validation of your information. If there are problems with your application, this is when you are likely to be notified.
If there are no problems, or after you correct any problems, (generally less than 5 days) you will receive an email with instructions for fingerprinting. There are many options for fingerprinting, but the TSA fingerprinting coordinator seems to have now made the price pretty consistently $99. You’ll be given a web link that shows available options when you reach this point in the process.
If your fingerprints are submitted electronically, you usually will receive approval on the next business day. The approval email allows you to start flight training, though it is still possible for the TSA to later find problems and order a halt to training (rare).
You training provider is required to take and upload a picture of you, prior to starting flight training.