Sport Pilot begins - Fly with 'driver's license medical'

January 9, 2004

Sport Pilot begins - Fly with 'driver's license medical'

The first phase of the Sport Pilot rule took effect September 1. What that means is that if you have a recreational pilot certificate or higher, and a current biennial flight review, you can fly a light sport aircraft without a medical certificate - provided you have a valid state driver's license and you haven't been denied a medical certificate.

AOPA is "Sport Pilot Ready" and has all of the information you'll need to take advantage of the new Sport Pilot and Light Sport Aircraft rules.

"AOPA's emphasis as the Sport Pilot rule was being developed was on the 'driver's license medical,' because that has the greatest benefit for most of our members," said Andy Cebula, senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs. "And our continued advocacy will be to extend that benefit to as many pilots as possible."

AOPA's goal is to eventually get the regulations changed to allow pilots to exercise private pilot privileges with a valid driver's license serving as the medical. As an interim step toward that goal, the association petitioned the FAA two years ago to extend the driver's license medical to recreational pilots. The agency denied the petition because the Sport Pilot rule was in process.

The FAA hasn't closed the door on the idea of extending the driver's-license-as-medical to other certificate classes. But the agency wants to get some experience under its belt with sport pilots flying without medical certificates before it looks at anything else.

Of more immediate concern to some pilots and AOPA is the sport pilot medical "Catch-22." The catch is that if you've been denied a medical, you can't exercise sport pilot privileges using a driver's license. But another pilot with the same medical condition who hasn't been denied a medical can fly.

"I discussed this issue just yesterday with one of the FAA's top regulatory and certification officials," said Cebula. "Unfortunately, we're no closer to a resolution.

"And contrary to what has been published elsewhere, the FAA is not considering a special issuance process for sport pilot medicals."

So what's a pilot who's been denied a medical to do?

"First thing is to call us," said Gary Crump, AOPA director of medical certification. "It's possible that the medical was denied simply because of missing medical records, or it's possible that your medical condition has changed enough that you can qualify now for a medical or special issuance authorization. We can help you determine what you need to do." (Call the AOPA Pilot Information Center, 800/USA-AOPA, for help on medical issues. Also see the Medical section of AOPA Online.)

If you do get a special issuance medical certificate, the FAA says you only need to do it once to fly as a sport pilot. A special issuance supersedes the denial of a medical certificate, and that means you can fly with a driver's license. And you can continue to exercise sport pilot privileges even after the special issuance medical expires.

"We still believe that if you are healthy enough to 'pilot' an 8,000-pound SUV inches away from other high-speed vehicles, you're safe flying a 1,300-pound, low-energy aircraft," said Cebula. "And AOPA will continue to push to make that happen for every pilot."

September 1, 2004