Keep flying: Familiar aircraft, more air time

November 21, 2011

If the FAA grants the exemption that AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association will submit after the first of the year to allow pilots to use their driver’s license and medical self-certification to fly recreationally, what kind of aircraft will operate under the exemption?

Pilots operating under the exemption in an aircraft with fixed landing gear, four or fewer seats, and one engine of 180 horsepower or less, including helicopters and experimental-category aircraft that meet requirements of the exemption. However, pilots would be limited to one passenger.

The exemption’s practical effect would be to make thousands of additional aircraft available for use without a medical certificate and enable pilots to keep flying aircraft in which they have extensive experience. An early study by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association estimates that more than 56,000 aircraft would be eligible.

Why not seek to increase the maximum weight of light sport aircraft?

Increasing the 1,320-pound maximum weight of light sport aircraft would present the FAA with a much more complicated proposal than it could evaluate as an exemption request, lowering the probability of success.

“Light sport aircraft are tied to specific certification standards,” said Kristine Hartzell, AOPA manager of regulatory affairs. “Increasing the weight would alter those standards.”

The exemption strategy also builds on past progress. The FAA pondered eliminating third-class medial certificates for using the recreational pilot certificate in the 1980s including it as one option in the original notice of proposed rulemaking. Although the medical was included in the final rule, the 2004 sport pilot rule allowed a driver’s license for privileges like those AOPA and EAA will propose.

And because exemptions are of finite duration, the time would come for re-evaluation, potentially providing a new opportunity to seek expanded aircraft or operations, Hartzell said.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.