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Posted by: In: News 15 Mar 2015 Comments: 0

Pilots May not Need Medical Exam for Third Class Category + New Bill of Rights

Many members of Congress recognize the need for the legislative branch to be involved with general aviation (GA).  The Federal Aviation Administrations (FAA) has an extensive rule making process that generally takes many years before guidelines change. During that time, new advancements in technology and other outside events require significant changes to the rules.

On August 3, 2012, Congress pass the first Pilot’s Bill of Rights, which was introduced by Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklamoha).  This bill specifically focused on providing “fair treatment of pilots in FAA enforcement cases and NTSB reviews, streamlined the notam program, and required a review from the Government Accountability Office of the FAA’s medical certification process.”  The bill was a great start to providing fairness to a dwindling and pilot population.

During the debate of the bill, Congress received many comments from pilots that the bill should be expanded to change the requirements for VFR and IFR flight by general aviation pilots.  The requirement of receiving and 3rd class medical certificate is difficult, expensive and burdensome on many pilots.  Additionally, the FAA has not seemed to keep up with advancements in medical science, including making arbitrary decisions on health issues.

Additionally, the safety record of the sport pilot program of self-certification using a valid state issued driver’s license has been outstanding compared with the general pilot population.  What does not make sense is that there is an arbitrary gross weight limit on the aircraft that pilots can fly with a driver’s license, compare with other general aviation aircraft.  There are many other options for pilots in proven air frames, such as Cessna 150/152 or 172, Piper Warrior or Cherokee,  that are often cheaper to acquire, easier to maintain and often easier to fly.

Last year, Senator Inhofe started a new campaign to address the lingering concerns of pilots about the third class medical certificate requirement.  On February 25, 2015, he sponsored the bill in the Senate and a similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives.  The bill lays out the following changes that are to be put into affect with 180 days of the bill passing:

  • With a valid state driver’s license a pilot may:
    • Transport up to 5 passengers
    • Fly under visual (VFR) or instrument (IFR)
    • In an aircraft that is authorized to carry up to 6 persons
    • Has a maximum takeoff weight up to 6,000 lbs.
  • An airman can appeal a FAA enforcement decision not just to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) but also to a federal district court.
  • Change some requirements of notification of enforcement or pending investigation.
  • Continued improvement of the NOTAM program.
  • Increased protection for pilots who fly as volunteers for non-profits.

The rule specifically for the self-certification using a driver’s license is far broader than the stalled FAA’s rule making process.  Allowing pilots to fly with just a driver’s license in most GA aircraft is a game changer for the entire pilot population.  Considering this change, there are many potential benefits, including:

  • It will allow healthy individuals to flying GA aircraft without the worry and, often difficult process, of obtaining a 3rd class medical certificate.
    • Someone with, for example, controlled type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure or hypertension, would be eligible to fly, whereas under current rules, may not get a medical certificate or could have their medical certificate denied.
  • Remove the fear of potential removal of pilot privileges due to temporary health changes or issues.
  • Allow sport pilots to easily receive a private pilots license and fly larger aircraft in different environments, which are currently disallowed under sport pilot rules.
  • Increase the demand for popular and inexpensive certificated aircraft, such as Cessna 150/152 and 172 or Piper Warrior or Cherokee.
  • Lessen the cost to get a private pilot license.

There are some potential downsides to this new rule.  Part of the push in the industry towards light-sport aircraft (LSA) is that a pilot can fly them without the 3rd class medical.  Without that limitation on other GA aircraft, the demand for LSAs may decline, especially since the performance and capabilities of the aircraft do not often justify the cost of the new aircraft.  For example, the average Cessna 150 can be purchased for $20,000-$30,000 that has similar performance characteristics of a used LSA that costs on average $60,000-$70,000.  This change has the potential to stifle innovation in the LSA market unless manufacturers change quickly to offering higher performing models to compete in cost and capability with normally certificated GA aircraft.

In all, if this bill passes as-is, it will create a huge benefit for the private pilot population.  Desert Flying Club encourages all its members to reach out to your congressional representatives and encourage them to support the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2.  It is possible that we could see this change happen in 2015, which would be an exciting change for general aviation!