April 13, 2013
By Thomas B Haines
Reporting on a recent meeting with FAA Administration Michael Huerta, AOPA President Craig Fuller said support in the agency for the third-class medical certificate exemption seemed to be waning. “High-level FAA staffers told us the exemption was not a priority for the agency,” Fuller said, referring to a meeting earlier between FAA executives and leadership teams from AOPA and EAA. The two associations jointly petitioned the FAA last year to allow pilots of four-place, 180-horsepower fixed-gear aircraft and smaller to fly in day VFR conditions using only a driver’s license as a medical certificate. The proposal included a requirement that pilots regularly complete online training courses that educate them on their health and how it relates to flying safely.
After the staff-level meeting, Fuller and EAA Acting President and CEO Jack Pelton met with Huerta on April 8. Speaking to attendees at a town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) at Sun ’n Fun International Fly-In & Expo, Fuller said Huerta seemed interested in the subject and asked good questions, clearly wanting to understand the issue more fully. Noting some eight years of data from sport pilots flying light sport aircraft using only driver’s licenses in place of a medical certificate and no resulting decrease in safety, Fuller wondered aloud whether the agency would ever approve such an exemption if not now. “How much more compelling can the data be?” he asked. While the agency may not see it as a priority, Fuller noted that the issue is clearly a priority for his membership and those of EAA. “Do they really think we would be in favor of an initiative that would harm our members?” he asked the Sun ’n Fun crowd.
If the agency can’t say yes to the exemption, Fuller encouraged at least a small scale study of just a few pilots for one to two years. If successful, it can then be expanded to more pilots.
The FAA has not said when it will respond to the petition, which garnered more than 16,000 responses from pilots and organizations such as AOPA and EAA.
AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.
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