AOPA/EAA Medical Exemption FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the AOPA/EAA Medical Exemption Request

  1. What makes this exemption request different from the third-class medical petitions that AOPA, EAA, and others have previously submitted?
  2. What is the philosophy behind this exemption request?
  3. Why an exemption request instead of a full request for rulemaking?
  4. Why not just petition to eliminate the third-class medical?
  5. What will I have to do to participate in the exemption process?
  6. Why is the mandatory online aeromedical training necessary as part of the exemption request?
  7. What happens after I complete the free online aeromedical training?
  8. How many airplanes would become available to pilots using a driver’s license in lieu of a medical certificate if the exemption request is approved?
  9. What limitations apply?
  10. Why can’t the upper limit be moved from 180-horsepower to 200-horsepower engines?
  11. Why isn’t night flying allowed?
  12. Why can’t we carry more than one passenger?
  13. Why can’t we fly repositionable or retractable landing gear?
  14. Will I be able to use this as a sport pilot?
  15. Why not just ask for increased weight limits for light sport aircraft?
  16. Why couldn’t I fly into Canada using this exemption?
  17. Will I be able to use this exemption in Experimental category aircraft?
  18. Will I be able to use this exemption in helicopters?
  19. Would AOPA and EAA consider expanding the parameters of the exemption in future efforts?
  20. What is the timeframe?
  21. How can I help?

Points to Remember

  • AOPA and EAA members (and nonmembers) have the option to sign up for email notifications regarding the status of the request for exemption online.
  • We will publicize when the FAA publishes our exemption request and when the docket is open for public comment. Watch the AOPA and EAA websites for news coverage, or sign up for email notifications.
  • There will likely be a short public comment period on the exemption request—possibly 60 days.
  • We are developing guidelines to use for writing comments in support of the proposed exemption. There will be available on the AOPA and EAA websites before the comment period opens.
  • It may take some time before the FAA takes action on the exemption request—even as long as a year or more. We cannot speculate on a timeline.

What makes this exemption request different from the third-class medical petitions that AOPA, EAA, and others have previously submitted?

  • AOPA, EAA, and other organizations have submitted numerous, specific requests to eliminate or relax the third-class medical certificate for various airman certificates during the past 25 years. Each time, the FAA has either denied or failed to act upon the petitions. Learning from those efforts, we have addressed all the concerns raised in the previous FAA denials. What makes this initiative different is that it incorporates an education program that will educate pilots about the issues they need to understand in order to self-assess their fitness to fly—something we must all do already but have had little training on how to do. Another difference in this initiative is that there is now a body of statistics from the sport pilot certificate—which does not require a third-class medical certificate. AOPA and EAA have joined forces and make the case that a pilot flying recreationally who has completed the recurrent aeromedical course meets an equivalent or higher level of overall safety compared to the existing medical certification process for similar operations. The exemption is tied to a type of flying (recreational) instead of a specific pilot certificate. It also addresses the concerns raised by the FAA in past denials and creates the strongest possible case for the exemption.

What is the philosophy behind this exemption request?

  • With the implementation of the Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft Rule, the FAA has the drivers license as a basic form of establishing medical fitness. The use of the driver's license medical for sport pilots has not negatively impacted safety. There have been no accidents in this community related to medical deficiency. The next incremental and logical step, in our view, is to allow use of a driver’s license and self-assessment instead of a medical certificate for pilots flying recreationally, ensuring safety through education. The operating limitations within the exemption proposal were based on existing standards in 14 CFR Part 61 for recreational pilot certificates. It would make close to 100,000 additional aircraft (based on analysis conducted by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association - GAMA) available for use without a medical certificate and enable pilots to continue flying familiar aircraft in which they have extensive time and experience. These aircraft are also the most accessible aircraft available for use at airfields in the U.S.

Why an exemption request instead of a full request for rulemaking?

  • The FAA prioritizes rulemaking activities for permanent changes based mainly upon the safety imperative behind them. That leaves few resources for projects that would relax or improve the flexibility of current standards. Full rulemaking projects can take five to 10 years for review and final approval, and are also very costly. An exemption request allows relief from current regulations as long as pilots operate within designated specifications. An exemption from current FARs is more likely to be considered in a timely manner and can be used immediately after FAA approval. The AOPA/EAA request is for a specific exemption from current rules instead of creation of a completely new rule. By taking this route, the experience and data gained under an exemption could form the basis for a permanent rule change in the future.

Why not just petition to eliminate the third-class medical?

  • The FAA has turned down numerous petitions to modify the requirement for a third-class medical certificate over the past 25 years. A review of those denials offers no indication from the FAA that outright elimination would have any chance for success.

What will I have to do to participate in the exemption process?

  • Assuming the FAA approves the exemption as written, part of the pilot requirements will be to participate in and complete a free online course for the driver’s license/self-assessment standard on a recurring basis (our request calls for recurrent completion of the program every 24 calendar months). Pilots also will have to maintain a valid driver’s license and self-assess fitness to fly prior to any flight. The education program will teach you how to conduct that self-assessment and what your legal responsibilities are while operating under the exemption.

Why is the mandatory online aeromedical training necessary as part of the exemption request?

  • A key component of any exemption request or petition for rulemaking is to demonstrate to the FAA that safety can be maintained or, preferably, enhanced under the proposed changes. AOPA and EAA believe that participating in a free online aeromedical self-assessment education program will not significantly burden pilots seeking to use the driver’s license as a medical standard. At the same time, it will enhance safety by making pilots more aware of aeromedical factors and proper self-assessment than under the current system, where a pilot visits an aviation medical examiner every two or five years.

What happens after I complete the free online aeromedical training?

  • The current plans are that, at the successful completion of the free online course, participants will be able to print a certificate as evidence that they’ve taken the course. This certificate of completion plus a driver’s license will establish the baseline of health. The pilot will then need to self-assess his/her fitness prior to any flight.

How many airplanes would become available to pilots using a driver’s license in lieu of a medical certificate if the exemption request is approved?

  • A review by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association estimates that about 100,000 aircraft would be eligible for flying under such an exemption—including many aircraft already used for flight training or flying recreationally.

What limitations apply?

  • The AOPA/EAA exemption request will include the following limitations:
  • a. A person operating under the AOPA/EAA medical exemption may:
    1. Carry no more than one passenger; and
    2. Not pay less than the pro rata share of the operating expenses of a flight with a passenger, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenses, or aircraft rental fees.
  • b. A person operating under the AOPA/EAA medical exemption may not act as pilot in command of an aircraft—
    1. That is certificated—
      • i. For more than four occupants;
      • ii. With more than one powerplant;
      • iii. With a powerplant of more than 180 horsepower, except aircraft certificated in the rotorcraft category; or
      • iv. With retractable landing gear;
    2. That is classified as a multiengine airplane, powered-lift, glider, airship, balloon, powered parachute, or weight-shift-control aircraft;
    3. That is carrying a passenger or property for compensation or hire;
    4. For compensation or hire;
    5. In furtherance of a business;
    6. Between sunset and sunrise;
    7. At an altitude of more than 10,000 feet MSL or 2,000 feet AGL, whichever is higher;
    8. When the flight or surface visibility is less than 3 statute miles;
    9. Without visual reference to the surface;
    10. On a flight outside the United States, unless authorized by the country in which the flight is conducted;
    11. To demonstrate that aircraft in flight as an aircraft salesperson to a prospective buyer;
    12. That is used in a passenger-carrying airlift and sponsored by a charitable organization; and
    13. That is towing any object;
    14. Without completion of the AOPA/EAA airman self-certification medical education course within the preceding 24 months.

NOTE: All pilots currently holding recreational pilot certificates will also be limited by the privileges and limitations listed for the recreational pilot certificate under §61.101. For example, a recreational pilot will still require an endorsement prior to cross-country flight beyond 50 nautical miles.

Why can’t the upper limit be moved from 180-horsepower to 200-horsepower engines?
Why isn’t night flying allowed?
Why can’t we carry more than one passenger?
Why can’t we fly repositionable or retractable landing gear?

  • We’ll gather these questions together, as they all highlight expansion of specific privileges sought under the current proposal. The exemption request is built upon airmen privileges approved by the FAA as part of the recreational pilot certificate. When the recreational pilot notice of proposed rulemaking was published for public comment in the mid-1980s, self-certification in lieu of medical certification was considered as part of that proposal. That self-certification medical standard was widely supported in the public comments. However, it was not included in the final rule—the FAA instead established the third-class medical standard for the recreational pilot certificate. Since that time, the FAA in the sport pilot final rule has allowed the use of a driver’s license for privileges similar to what AOPA and EAA are proposing. This gives our proposal the best chance of initial approval. Since exemptions are issued for a specific period of time, there will come a time for us to evaluate the limitations of the exemption and, assuming the data is favorable, offer an opportunity to perhaps expand the type of aircraft or operations allowed when we reissued the exemption.

Will I be able to use this as a sport pilot?

  • Sport pilots can already fly light sport aircraft by using a driver’s license in lieu of a third-class medical certificate, but as a part of the sport pilot rule, flying heavier or faster aircraft is not allowed. Sport pilot is a very specific rule tied to certain classifications of aircraft, such as light sport aircraft and sport pilot-eligible aircraft. To use this exemption, current sport pilots would need to upgrade to at least a recreational pilot certificate.

Why not just ask for increased weight limits for light sport aircraft?

  • As light sport aircraft are tied to a very specific set of aircraft certification standards, increasing the weight would alter those standards and become a much more complex request to the FAA. This exemption request is for an initial step that would allow the option of the driver’s license medical standard while not interfering with the larger matter of aircraft certification categories.

Why couldn’t I fly into Canada using this exemption?

  • Transport Canada regulations require that U.S. pilots who fly into Canada hold a minimum of a third-class medical certificate. The exemption request to the FAA has no effect on aviation regulations in another country, so the exemption would not be applicable in Canada or any other nation as it does not meet ICAO standards. This is similar to what is true today for U.S. sport pilots. Transport Canada and other nations would have to consider a rule change to allow such flights. If AOPA and EAA are successful in obtaining this exemption, we would certainly work with our international partners for similar changes or exemptions in Canada, Mexico, and the Bahamas (the only other nation that allows U.S. sport pilots to operate using their driver’s license as a medical certificate).

Will I be able to use this exemption in Experimental category aircraft?

  • Yes, as long as the aircraft meets the requirements described in the exemption.

Will I be able to use this exemption in helicopters?

  • Yes, as long as the helicopter meets the requirements described in the exemption.

Would AOPA and EAA consider expanding the parameters of the exemption in future efforts?

  • That is possible, based on data that could be gathered under the current exemption proposal. Part of the purpose for this exemption request is to build a body of data to support greater expansion of medical self-certification to other areas of recreational flying. The current exemption request is a logical first step in a longer-term process to expand self-certification.

What is the timeframe?

  • We have submitted the exemption request with the FAA. When the FAA posts the exemption request online there will be a time limit in which they will accept comments to the request. The typical deadline for comments on an exemption request is 60 days. The FAA may offer an extension to the comment deadline. We do not know how long it will take for a response from the FAA.

How can I help?

  • Soon, the exemption request will be posted online and be opened for comments. That’s when you can help. If you sign up to receive updates on our medical initiative, we will let you know when the exemption request has been posted online, and we will provide a template for you to use to write and submit valuable comments in support of our effort. The window for comments will only be open for approximately 60 days, so it will be important to keep an eye out for news on the submission.