Keep flying: 180 hp, one passenger, driver's license medical

October 27, 2011

Take a friend for a $100 hamburger. Practice take offs and landings for proficiency. Fly for the fun of it—and do it using a driver’s license medical.

After the first of the year, AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association will request an exemption to allow pilots to use their driver’s license and self-certification to fly one passenger in an aircraft with fixed landing gear, four or fewer seats, one powerplant, and an engine of 180 horsepower or less.

But why the aircraft limitations, in particular the 180-hp request? Recreational pilot privileges are the next logical step, AOPA believes. Pilots already can exercise sport privileges by using their driver’s license. The next set of pilot privileges is recreational.

“Those who exercise the recreational privileges are limited to aircraft with 180 horsepower or less,” explained Kristine Hartzell, AOPA manager of regulatory affairs. “We feel the exemption stands the strongest chance of success utilizing a limit that already exists in the regulations. We want to make it as simple and straightforward as possible to give our request the best chance of being accepted.”

In fact, the FAA has been receptive to applying the driver’s license medical standard to recreational privileges in the past: The agency originally included this in its plan for the recreational certificate in the 1980s, but it was eliminated by the Department of Transportation in the final rule.

Take a look at the recreational privileges. Pilots exercising recreational privileges—whether a private, commercial, or air transport pilot—would be limited to carrying one passenger at a time, and could not fly for business or hire, operate between sunset and sunrise, or when flight visibility is less than 3 statute miles, or without visual reference to the ground. Other limitations would apply, as listed under the federal aviation regulations for recreational privileges. Pilots with a private pilot certificate or higher would still be able to fly more than 50 nautical miles cross country and in different types of airspace.

The request also is a response to pilots. AOPA surveys members periodically to better understand their views on policy issues; in the latest survey, 72 percent supported the expansion of the driver’s license/self-certification standard to recreational pilot privileges. Support dipped lower with each subsequent certificate level. AOPA and EAA’s request continues efforts requested by members to further expand the ability to fly using something other than the current medical while offering what AOPA believes is the strongest chance of success when considered by the FAA.

“Our proposal would allow pilots to use a driver’s license medical and self-certification procedure to fly common aircraft they’ve already been used to operating,” Hartzell said. “There would just be a few operational limitations.”