AOPA, EAA brief pilots on medical exemption request

July 26, 2012

AOPA and Experimental Aircraft Association staff outlined their efforts to help pilots bypass the “treadmill of bureaucracy” that can accompany the medical certification process in a forum at EAA AirVenture July 24.

The two organizations joined forces to petition the FAA for an exemption that would give pilots flying recreationally an alternative to the third class medical. Under the exemption, they would be able to fly, with certain limitations, by completing a medical awareness online course and carrying a driver's license in lieu of a medical certificate. EAA Vice President of Government Relations Doug Macnair and AOPA Manager of Regulatory Affairs David Oord explained the details of the request and fielded questions at a forum at the Oshkosh, Wis., fly-in.

Pilots participating in the exemption would be able to fly noncommercial day-VFR operations in a single-engine, fixed-gear aircraft with 180 horsepower or less and four seats or fewer, carrying up to one passenger. Oord detailed the limitations, explaining that an estimated 86,000 aircraft, many of them readily available and economically feasible, would qualify for use under the exemption. The specifics of the limitations—a common source of questions from the audience—were designed to give the request the best chance of success by mirroring existing regulations, he said.

While some audience members questioned the exemption’s contributions to safety, Oord argued that it would enhance safety by providing more education about signs and symptoms of serious medical conditions and allowing pilots to continue flying familiar aircraft.

Macnair also emphasized the value of the educational program in better equipping pilots to assess their fitness for flight, an evaluation they’re required to do every time they fly: “You would be self assessing your medical condition with a greater level of knowledge than you do today,” he said. The exemption would allow pilots to step off the “treadmill … of bureaucracy” that may result when they “trip the wire” and are pulled into the medical certification system, he said.

He explained the history of both organizations’ efforts to reduce the burden of the third class medical, including the steps of increasing the duration of medicals and creating the sport pilot certificate. While efforts to abolish the medical completely have not gained traction, he said, the organizations believe they have a better chance of making progress with the current exemption request.

“We don’t see this as the endgame,” he said. “We see this as the next step.”

The request had received 15,000 comments—a remarkable number, Macnair said—at the end of a 20-day comment period; an extension gives pilots until Sept. 14 to contribute their thoughts. Pilots can submit their comments to the FAA online, at the AOPA Tent, or at the EAA Welcome Center on the AirVenture grounds.