Keep flying: Nix the cost, keep the safety

October 19, 2011

Are you fit to fly? Pilots make the call every day, and yet they must put in the time and expense of a third-class medical to continue to fly recreationally in some of the most common general aviation aircraft.

In response to member concerns, AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association will, after the first of the year, request an exemption that would allow many pilots flying recreationally to use a driver's license and self-certification medical standard. Why? Medical certification is expensive and time consuming for pilots and the government. And self-certification works.

Pilots take time off work, drive, or fly to the aviation medical examiner’s (AME’s), and pay the AME just to prove that they’re in good health for one day. Some members have told AOPA that they have to travel more than 100 miles to see the nearest AME. Between the medical exams every two or five years, depending on a pilot’s age, the pilot makes the decision if he or she is fit to fly. AOPA and EAA estimate that if 30 percent of pilots who now get a third class medical participate, the exemption could save pilots nearly $250 million over 10 years and the federal government more than $11 million over the same period.

In addition, the sport pilot category has proven the effectiveness of the driver’s license medical standard: No accidents have been recorded involving medical incapacitation of sport pilots.

Whether they run through the IM SAFE (illness, medication, stress, alcohol, fatigue, and eating) checklist or have another rule of thumb, all pilots evaluate their fitness to fly every time they consider climbing into the left seat. The associations’ request would enhance this self-certification process by introducing recurrent online training that would cover aeromedical factors not currently taught during training. It also would increase the tools a pilot may use to make a go/no-go decision.

Pilots interested in the request may sign up for updates, including an alert when the exemption request is filed and when you may submit comments to the FAA.