AOPA Action

What AOPA is doing to keep you flying

September 1, 2002

AOPA Petitions for Driver's License as Medical

AOPA in July officially asked the FAA to allow pilots to use a driver's license as a medical, provided those pilots limit themselves to recreational pilot privileges. The petition formalizes a suggestion AOPA made in its May comments on the FAA's proposed sport pilot rule.

"The FAA itself argues in its sport pilot proposal that a driver's license, which allows men and women to drive an automobile at high speeds just inches from other automobiles, provides an equivalent level of safety for recreational flight purposes," said Phil Boyer, AOPA president. "And AOPA's own analysis of GA accidents over the past 20 years supports that contention."

Boyer pointed to a July analysis by the AOPA Air Safety Foundation comparing ratios of medically induced accidents in airplanes (which require an FAA medical certificate) to those in gliders and balloons (for which no medical certificate is required). No meaningful difference was found. And a previous FAA study actually showed lower ratios of medically induced accidents for no-medical-required flight activities (see " Medical Certification: Does It Prevent Accidents?" this page). The AOPA petition also pointed out that regulations require pilots to ground themselves if not medically qualified, whether a medical certificate is required or not.

AOPA's formal petition asks for the driver's-license-as-medical for sport pilot and recreational pilot privileges only, in part to boost acceptance of the lower-cost recreational pilot certificate and in part to allow the FAA to gain experience with the new privilege. Once operational experience proves its validity, AOPA anticipates asking that the privilege be extended to those exercising private pilot privileges.

The recreational pilot certificate, introduced by the FAA in 1989 after years of discussion and study, requires a minimum of 30 hours of flight instruction and practice. But the recreational pilot certificate has had limited acceptance, in part because of the requirement for an FAA medical certificate. The latest FAA records show only 343 recreational pilots, comprising less than 0.1 percent of all pilots in the United States.

"AOPA believes one of the biggest reasons so few would-be pilots seek a recreational pilot certificate is the third class medical requirement," said Boyer. "Changing the medical standard to a valid driver's license while expanding recreational pilot privileges to match sport pilot privileges would greatly increase the utility and popularity of the recreational pilot certificate."

However, if AOPA's petition is granted, any certificated pilot would be able to use a current valid state driver's license as a medical, provided his or her flying was limited to recreational pilot privileges. Those privileges limit pilots to fixed-gear, normal category aircraft up to 180 horsepower, with four or fewer passenger seats. Pilots exercising recreational privileges may not fly at night, in IFR weather conditions, above 10,000 feet or 2,000 feet agl, whichever is higher, and may carry no more than one passenger. They are expressly prohibited from flying for any purpose other than sport or recreation, identical to the requirement for the proposed new sport pilot certificate.

Medical Certification: Does it Prevent Accidents?

AOPA has been examining the data for years to see if there is a correlation between medical certificates and accident prevention. There is no strong link.

In July, AOPA Air Safety Foundation researchers analyzed 37,946 GA accidents that occurred from 1983 to 2000, involving powered fixed-wing aircraft under 12,500 pounds gross weight and operated under FAR Part 91. All such aircraft require a valid FAA medical certificate for the pilot in command.

The foundation found that only 120 of the nearly 38,000 accidents it studied were caused by medical incapacitation. That translates to just 0.316 percent (slightly less than one-third of one percent) of all accidents. (Cardiovascular problems were the most common causes cited for incapacitation.)

A similar study conducted by the FAA of accidents in gliders and balloons (whose pilots are not required to have a valid medical certificate) found only two medically related accidents in the 10-year period from 1990 to 2000. With a total of 609 glider and balloon accidents shown in the ASF database for that period, the no-medical-certificate-required ratio works out to 0.328 percent, essentially the same ratio as that for pilots requiring an FAA medical certificate.

ASF's findings verify a smaller study done in the mid-1990s by the FAA's own Aviation Rules Advisory Committee, which found an even lower ratio of medically caused accidents: 0.198 percent in operations requiring an FAA medical certificate and just 0.131 percent in operations that did not. That study was based on GA accidents from 1986 to 1992.

"The statistics strongly support AOPA's petition to allow pilots to exercise at least recreational pilot privileges by using a current valid state driver's license," said Andy Cebula, AOPA's senior vice president of government and technical affairs.


An Early Demise for VORs? AOPA Raises Concerns

An FAA plan to start turning off VORs in 2007 in anticipation of a fully functioning GPS navigation system has drawn AOPA protest.

AOPA told the FAA in June that the timeline for transition to a GPS-only system was too aggressive, there aren't adequate backups in the event of a system failure, and the satellite-based system does not currently provide enough benefits over the existing ground-based system of VORs.

"A transition from one navigation system to another takes considerable time," said AOPA Director of Advanced Technology Randy Kenagy. "There have to be substantial benefits before pilots will accept the transition, and we have yet to see many of those benefits emerge."

AOPA said the replacement service should include GPS precision approaches to every public-use airport runway in the United States, as well as GPS transition routes through Class B and special-use airspace. AOPA also questioned the FAA's presumption that the new GPS capabilities will be available on time and as expected.

AOPA was also critical of FAA plans to decommission 450 VORs, slightly fewer than half of the 1,033 now operating, without an adequate backup plan.

In its comments, AOPA pointed out that until all the pieces of a satellite navigation system are in place and functioning reliably, general aviation aircraft owners are unlikely to make what may be a high-cost, high-risk investment in new avionics.

Bush Raises Specter of Privatized ATC, User Fees

President George W. Bush has again raised the specter of user fees by announcing a possible first step toward privatization of air traffic control services. A privatized ATC would undoubtedly be financed by user fees.

Bush said that he believes ATC is not "an inherently governmental function," and he modified an earlier executive order creating an ATC "performance-based organization."

"We're absolutely flabbergasted that the administration thinks that aviation security and safety aren't a government function," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We must never forget that ATC's primary function is public safety. And its role in security was never more evident than on September 11.

"The administration's position is particularly incomprehensible at a time when the government is taking airport security functions away from private industry and consolidating homeland security into a huge new department."

Boyer pointed out that Congress has historically opposed ATC privatization schemes such as those in Canada and Great Britain. Both of those systems have been engulfed in financial difficulties recently as downturns in air traffic reduced revenue below/the level needed to meet operational expenses.

AOPA, using its strong Washington-based legislative affairs staff, will continue to work with Congress to keep ATC a governmental function.

FAA Responds to AOPA Pilot ID Petition

Action is apparently under way on a plan to require pilots to carry a government-issued photo ID, such as a state-issued driver's license, along with their pilot certificates. AOPA proposed the rule in February to avoid a costly and impractical government program to produce new photo licenses for all pilots.

In a letter to Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), the FAA said, "The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) supports [AOPA's] proposed requirement as a low-cost interim measure to enhance security throughout the general aviation community that may be quickly implemented before a permanent system is developed and implemented." Cleland and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) have endorsed the AOPA proposal.

"I'm happy to see the FAA and TSA working together to quickly implement this common-sense proposal," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.

Low-Cost Radar to Improve Safety at GA Towers

The FAA will purchase low-cost radar displays to improve safety at some 15 airport towers handling more than 30,000 operations annually, and it will allow other airports to purchase the systems directly. AOPA has pushed for the displays since 1998.

Currently, tower controllers at many reliever and GA airports can track aircraft only visually.

Two low-cost displays, called ARTS IE (Automated Radar Terminal Systems IE) and STARS LITE (Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System Local Integrated Tower Equipment), will be available later this year. Both are based on existing ATC technology and can be "bought off the shelf."

FAA Sets Standards for Future Technology

Recent FAA decisions on datalink technology have opened the door for GA use of in-cockpit displays of text and graphical weather reports, forecasts, and traffic information.

Among other things, the technology will increase the number of single-engine piston aircraft that can receive real-time weather radar images from ground stations, eliminating the need for expensive (and in many cases, impractical) airborne weather avoidance systems. In-cockpit traffic avoidance information will allow ATC to provide radar-like services even in areas where radar coverage does not exist.

There are no plans to make the new technology mandatory for GA aircraft, a key point insisted on by AOPA. "There's no need," said Randy Kenagy, AOPA's director of advanced technology. "As pilots see the benefits ADS-B [automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast] provides, it will gradually become a 'must have' box." The FAA technology standards decision also followed AOPA's insistence that GA pilots deciding to equip their aircraft with the new devices be allowed to install a lower-cost version of the technology, while airline and corporate-type aircraft would use the more expensive Mode S versions.

For the past two years, AOPA has helped test the new technology at the association's Frederick, Maryland, headquarters.

FAA Urges TFR Avoidance; AOPA Resources Noted

A strongly worded letter reminding pilots of their obligation to avoid temporary flight restriction (TFR) areas was issued by the FAA in July, just days after highly publicized airspace violations near the White House and Camp David.

The letter included several Internet addresses that provide additional, if unofficial, information on notams and TFRs, including AOPA's TFR graphics.

"Staying out of restricted airspace is ultimately the pilot's responsibility," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "But as this letter points out, the FAA is also stressing to its flight service station briefers the importance of relaying timely and correct information."

AOPA has received anecdotal evidence of briefers who did not have or failed to relay the newest or most accurate information. When given a chance to preview the letter, AOPA suggested language stressing the FSS briefers' role in making pilots aware of restrictions.


AOPA Flight Training Funds Now Available

A new AOPA Flight Training Funds program with loans of up to $25,000 is available from AOPA Certified partner MBNA America Bank.

The new program offers AOPA members flight-training personal loans with rates as low as 8.99-percent APR and repayment terms as long as five years.

No collateral or down payment is required, and no annual fee is assessed. Loans may be used for any aviation expense, including aircraft rental, instruction fees, books and supplies, or any other goods or services needed to make flight training successful.

For more information on the AOPA Flight Training Funds program or to open an account, call MBNA Bank at 800/882-8648.

AOPA Expo to Feature Products, Seminars, Parties

More than 10,000 attendees are expected for October's AOPA Expo 2002, the association's annual convention and trade show to be held in Palm Springs, California.

The October 24 through 26 event features a sold-out 500-plus vendor exhibit hall, more than 80 hours of seminars, numerous social events, and entertainment by nationally known political humorist Mark Russell.

In addition, 77 new GA aircraft will ring three sides of the Palm Springs Convention Center, parked there after a spectacular Parade of Planes through the streets of Palm Springs on October 23.

"Any pilot will have the time of his or her life at this year's Expo," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "The exhibit hall will have anything a pilot could possibly need or want, the seminar schedule includes master aviation humorist Rod Machado, and the social events will be dazzling."

Among the social events will be a gala AOPA party on Friday night at the world-famous Air Museum in Palm Springs.

AOPA Expo 2002 registration options range from a one-day exhibit pass to a full three-day package that includes exhibits, seminars, and social events. For more information, visit the Web site (


New In-flight Icing Video Available

A new video on the dangers of in-flight icing developed with the help of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation is available to general aviation pilots.

The 55-minute program is a cooperative effort of NASA, the FAA's Flight Safety Research Section, and the Air Safety Foundation. It is available in both DVD and VHS formats.

Built on ASF's Aircraft Icing Safety Advisor, the new video explores the dangers of icing for all types of aircraft by following actual NASA flights through icing conditions. ASF provided production assistance, focusing on the GA aircraft perspective, and is helping with distribution of the finished product.

"This video is the sort of thing NASA does very well," said ASF Executive Director Bruce Landsberg. "Given ASF's 50-year history of acting as champion for GA air safety, working together just made sense."

ASF is also planning an updated version of its Aircraft Icing Safety Advisor, expected to be available in both printed and online formats later this year.

ASF Aircraft Ramp Dedicated

The aircraft parking area serving AOPA and the AOPA Air Safety Foundation headquarters adjacent to the Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland has been dedicated as the Anthony and Caroline Fazio Memorial ramp. Chuck Fazio, AOPA 1162884, of Alexandria, Virginia, won 2002 naming rights in last year's ASF Silent Auction, and opted to honor his late parents with the designation. AOPA Director of Maintenance Ron Barkdoll (above) installed the commemorative sign identifying the ramp. This year's ASF Silent Auction, which includes hundreds of unique and valuable items donated by pilots and companies, is available online and will continue through November 30.


Volunteer of the month: David Parrish

Before David Parrish stepped up to the plate as the AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer for Louisville, Kentucky's venerable Bowman Field last year, relations between pilots and the Louisville Regional Airport Authority (RAA) were strained, at best.

"We felt like poor relatives who were being ignored," he said. "Nobody at RAA ever cared about much-needed refurbishment at Bowman. But let the least little thing go wrong at Standiford [the major air carrier airport for Louisville] and there were workers and equipment on it immediately."

As a first step, Parrish helped form an airport support group called Friends of Bowman. The group listened to pilot complaints and then consolidated those into a list of 14 issues that affected use of Bowman Field and safety of operations for aircraft.

"By developing subcommittees for each issue and using the Internet to keep in close contact, we were able to work with RAA officials to prioritize issues and develop constructive solutions," said Parrish. "Most importantly, we now have an open line of communication between the RAA and the pilots of Bowman Field as a foundation for achieving our needs."

GA pilots at Bowman Field now participate in RAA meetings concerning their airport, review airport financial information, help develop cost-effective security measures, and work with pilots and neighbors on noise complaints.

"Support from AOPA headquarters has been invaluable, but it's local pilot involvement that really makes the difference," said Parrish.

Now What Do You Do?

By Mark Lowdermilk, AOPA ASN program manager

Last month in this column I talked about how pilots could apply the principles of airport resource management (ARM), using all available tools to help save and improve their airports.

I'll be optimistic and say that you understood the importance of organizing support and have formed a group for your own airport. Now what do you do?

You get involved! If you need a shining example, take a look at what ASN volunteer David Parrish has done in the past year at his home airport, Louisville, Kentucky's Bowman Field (see " Volunteer of the Month: David Parrish," this page).

Parrish helped organize the Friends of Bowman, regularly participates in the Louisville Regional Airport Authority meetings, and plans airport promotion events. Administratively, he has mastered the technique of using committees in a "divide and conquer" strategy, helping to resolve major issues facing GA pilots at Bowman.

ASN volunteers have detailed information on forming an airport support group and will be happy to share it with you. If your airport doesn't have a support group, offer to help get one started.

Not sure if your airport has an AOPA ASN volunteer? Visit the Web site ( and click on "Find Your Airport Volunteer." If for some reason your airport has no ASN volunteer, you may nominate yourself at the same site.