Medical reform gains momentum

April 15, 2014

The doctor doesn't need to be in.The movement to exempt thousands of general aviation pilots from the third class medical certification process is gaining momentum in Congress and the aviation community.

The General Aviation Pilot Protection Act now has 93 cosponsors in the House and 10 in the Senate, and those numbers continue to grow as thousands of AOPA members contact their elected representatives and ask them to support the legislation. AOPA has posted a list of elected officials who have signed on as cosponsors.

To give even more pilots the opportunity to make their voices heard, AOPA will be collecting signatures in support of third class medical reform on a life-size petition that will be traveling to AOPA Fly-Ins and other major aviation events throughout the flying season. Your first chance to sign will be at the inaugural AOPA Fly-In in San Marcos, Texas, on April 26. The petition will be available at each of AOPA’s Fly-In events as well as EAA AirVenture and the AOPA Homecoming.

“This petition is one more way pilots can send the message to the FAA, Congress, and others in Washington that third class medical reform is long overdue,” said Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs. “This is an important issue for AOPA members and we are leaving no stone unturned with both Congress and the FAA to make sure decision makers recognize just how important it is to general aviation pilots everywhere.”

More than two years ago, AOPA and EAA filed a joint petition asking the FAA to expand the third class medical exemption already enjoyed by sport pilots. Despite receiving 16,000 overwhelmingly positive comments on the proposal, the FAA took no action.

Then, earlier this month, the agency announced plans to go through a rulemaking process that could result in expanding the number of pilots eligible to fly without the need for a third class medical certificate. On April 15, significant target dates for action on that rulemaking were made public. According to the Department of Transportation’s website, the FAA hopes to publish the notice of proposed rulemaking in the fall of 2014, to be followed by a 60-day comment period.

The FAA’s rulemaking announcement came after the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act was introduced in both the House and Senate. Under the legislation, pilots who make noncommercial VFR flights in aircraft weighing up to 6,000 pounds with no more than six seats would be exempt from the third class medical certification process. Pilots would be allowed to carry up to five passengers, fly at altitudes below 14,000 feet msl, and fly no faster than 250 knots. The FAA would be required to report on the safety consequences of the new rule after five years.

AOPA members Reps. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), a member of the House General Aviation Caucus, and GA Caucus Co-Chair Sam Graves (R-Mo.) introduced the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act in December 2013, and Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), all members of the General Aviation Caucus, introduced an identical measure in the Senate on March 11.

Elizabeth Tennyson

Elizabeth A Tennyson | Director of Government Affairs and Executive Communications, AOPA

Director of Government Affairs and Executive Communications Elizabeth Tennyson joined AOPA in 1998, the same year she earned her private pilot certificate. She also holds an instrument rating and enjoys jumping out of planes almost as much as flying them.