AOPA petitions FAA to allow more pilots back in the air

August 6, 2006

AOPA petitions FAA to allow more pilots back in the air

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AOPA is petitioning the FAA to fix the sport pilot "Catch 22" and to allow recreational pilots to fly with a "driver's license medical."

"That would mean that even if you've lost your medical, you could still fly something as large as a Cessna 172 if you're healthy enough for a driver's license and don't have any medical conditions that could incapacitate you," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.

An AOPA member exercising recreational pilot privileges could fly in day-VFR conditions in a single-engine, fixed-gear aircraft with no more than 180 horsepower. Up to four seats are allowed, but a recreational pilot can have only one passenger on board.

"When we petitioned in 1978 for the FAA to create a new pilot certificate that would reduce the cost and procedural barriers to flight training, AOPA recommended medical self-certification, just as glider and balloon pilots are allowed to do," said Boyer. "While the agency accepted most of our other recommendations for the recreational pilot certificate, the FAA still insisted on a third class medical certificate. That really limited the attractiveness of the recreational certificate."

Since then, AOPA has petitioned the FAA numerous times to remove the medical certificate requirement from the recreational pilot certificate. The last few times, the agency rejected the petition saying that the issue was being considered under the sport pilot initiative. The FAA wanted time to see what happened with sport pilots flying without a medical certificate.

No data to show medical certification prevents accidents

"It's now been two years and no accident history to suggest any problem with sport pilots flying without having gone through an FAA-approved medical examination," said Boyer. "And that just reaffirms all the reams of data we've submitted through the years.

"Medical conditions are not a significant cause of accidents in aircraft used for sport and recreational purposes," Boyer said. "Even the FAA conceded that in its rulemaking for the sport pilot certificate."

In fact, an AOPA Air Safety Foundation review of more than a decade of accident data showed no difference in the percentage of medical incapacitation accidents between pilots without medical certificates and pilots required to carry a medical certificate. Medical incapacitation accounts for less than 2 percent of all accidents. Furthermore, the Air Safety Foundation's analysis showed that the majority of medically related aviation accidents were not attributable to predictable conditions or conditions that could have been revealed by an aviation medical examination.

Fixing the sport pilot "Catch 22"

AOPA's petition would also eliminate the sport pilot "Catch 22." Under current regulations, a pilot who has previously been denied a medical certificate cannot exercise sport pilot privileges without regaining a medical certificate. However, another pilot with the same medical condition who just allowed his medical to lapse can still fly as a sport pilot, as long as he has a current driver's license and self-certifies that he is healthy enough to fly.

AOPA has recommended to the FAA that an AOPA member be allowed to obtain a health statement from his personal physician declaring that he is healthy enough to operate a moving vehicle and is not likely to suffer any kind of incapacitation within the next 24 months. Like a medical certificate, the health statement would need to be readily accessible to the pilot when operating an aircraft.

"This simple change would eliminate the double standard that unfairly penalized pilots who for one reason or another have unfavorable medical records on file with the FAA but otherwise meet the sport pilot requirements," said Boyer.

AOPA argued that these regulatory changes would be in the public interest because they would "bring new entrants to recreational and sport aviation without a demonstrable reduction in safety, and help re-energize an industry which has seen a steady decline in certificated pilots for more than 25 years."

June 8, 2006