AOPA/EAA medical exemption request strong, steady

February 27, 2012

AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association are unwavering in their effort to open more aircraft to pilots using a driver’s license and medical self-assessment, despite the FAA’s recent denial of a pilot’s request to expand the driver’s license medical to private pilots flying aircraft 6,000 pounds or less.

The FAA on Feb. 2 denied a 2009 petition by David Wartofsky, owner of Potomac Airfield in Friendly, Md., that had received more than 1,000 supportive comments.

AOPA was among the commenters, stating that the association “has long supported expansion of the eligible population and kinds of operations that can use a driver’s license medical or self-certification as is requested in this petition. AOPA supports the concept [of the Wartofsky petition] and will continue to advocate for an expansion to the driver’s license medical standard so that it may apply to pilots exercising the privileges of higher certificate levels. Reducing the economic and regulatory burden to being a pilot would promote the growth of general aviation. This would directly benefit student pilots, pilots, flight instructors and flight schools while indirectly benefiting the aircraft manufacturers, FBOs, airports and the GA community as a whole.”

In its denial of Wartofky’s petition, which the FAA treated as a petition for rulemaking, the FAA pointed out that many complex single- and multiengine piston aircraft, turboprops, turbojets, and helicopters would fall under the 6,000-pound weight limit he proposed as the threshold for the driver’s license medical.

“Expanding the option of relying on a valid state driver's license in lieu of a third-class airman medical certificate to include private pilots exercising privileges in aircraft whose performance and handling qualities typically are well above current LSA limitations would require complex amendments to FAA aircraft certification, operational, and medical standards that, absent more substantive safety evidence, may prove unwise,” the FAA responded.

“The support from pilots of David’s position coupled with what we’ve heard from our members about our petition for exemption shows the level of interest among pilots,” said AOPA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Rob Hackman, “and pilots shouldn’t give up on the idea of expanding the driver’s license medical.

“We are still working with EAA to finalize our petition—a request for exemption, not rulemaking—and intend to submit in March.”

The AOPA/EAA exemption request proposes to expand the driver’s license medical beyond sport pilot to those pilots flying recreationally, which would be the next incremental step. Flying recreationally would be defined as flight in an aircraft with an engine of 180-horsepower or less, four seats or fewer, and fixed landing gear. Operations would be limited to a maximum of one passenger and flight during day-VFR conditions. The request also seeks to boost safety by creating an educational online course that pilots would be required to complete and that would address medical self-assessment.

In addition, AOPA and EAA will be discussing the numerous safety benefits of allowing pilots to continue flying aircraft with which they are most familiar. The general aviation fleet includes tens of thousands of aircraft that could be flown under these provisions.