AOPA still won't take 'no' for an answer on pilot medicals

October 26, 2006

AOPA still won't take 'no' for an answer on pilot medicals

The FAA said "no" and slammed the door on any further consideration. It won't budge on the medical "Catch-22" issue or extending the driver's license medical to pilots exercising recreational pilot privileges.

Last June AOPA petitioned the agency for changes to allow more pilots back in the air.

"But we won't give up, particularly because we think the FAA's position is logically inconsistent," said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. "Too many healthy pilots have lost their medicals, yet they could still fly simple aircraft like Cessna 172s safely. We're going to find a way to make that happen."

AOPA has petitioned the FAA multiple times to extend the "driver's license medical" to recreational pilots. That would allow pilots to fly a fixed-gear, four-seat aircraft with up to 180 horsepower in day-VFR conditions without a medical certificate.

When AOPA has made this request in the past, the FAA has said there wasn't enough data to show that the change could be made safely. This time the FAA's answer was to simply close the door. "The FAA has not found cause...to reconsider the third-class medical certificate standard for the exercise of recreational pilot privileges," the agency said.

"But we will keep knocking on this door," said Cebula. AOPA will conduct yet another detailed analysis of the data records, looking specifically at the two years of data from sport pilots flying without medical certificates.

"We'll hit them again with the evidence," said Cebula. "The FAA recognized that it could be done safely for sport pilots. Sooner or later, we will convince them to extend the logic to other pilot certificates," Cebula said.

AOPA had also suggested a common-sense way to fix the Catch-22 for sport pilots. Every pilot exercising those privileges in light sport aircraft don't need a medical certificate, just a current driver's license. Everyone, that is, except a pilot who has previously been denied a medical certificate by the FAA. They can't fly, even though someone else who has the same medical condition - but hasn't ever applied for a medical certificate - is legal to fly as long as they are healthy enough to drive.

AOPA said that an AOPA member should 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.

But the FAA said that might "place licensed physicians in the position of unwittingly declaring someone fit for flight." The agency said the idea was "too difficult to implement."

"We won't give up on this issue either," said Cebula.

October 26, 2006