Support for medical reform grows

May 29, 2014

With 111 co-sponsors in the House and 11 in the Senate, legislation to exempt thousands of general aviation pilots from the third class medical continues to gain momentum.

“Lawmakers are hearing from AOPA members in their districts about just how important the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act is to the GA community, and they are stepping up to show their support,” said Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president for government affairs. “But more support is needed to keep this issue moving forward. If your congressional representative and senators have not signed on to co-sponsor this bill, give them a call and let them know it matters to you.”

AOPA has published a list of co-sponsors in the House and Senate. Contact information for members of the House and Senate can also be found on AOPA's website.

Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), a pilot and GA Caucus member who originally sponsored the measure along with fellow pilot and GA Caucus Co-Chair Sam Graves (R-Mo.), explained the importance of the legislation in a recent editorial.

“General Aviation is being held back by an antiquated regulatory system that is painfully unresponsive and out of touch,” Rokita wrote. “Outdated FAA regulations have contributed to a dramatic reduction in the number of aviators, and a corresponding increase in the cost of flying.”

He added that medical-related accidents are extremely rare, and the medical process does little to prevent them.

“The truth is that no medical exam conducted every few years can determine whether a pilot is healthy enough to fly right now. Only the aviator can do that—and that’s exactly what aviators do every time they approach the flight deck,” Rokita wrote. “So why are we forcing them to jump through hoops that discourage thousands of people from flying while contributing nothing to safety?”

The FAA has announced plans to go through a rulemaking process that could result in thousands more pilots being allowed to fly without a third-class medical.Under the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act, 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.

The move for medical reform grew out of a join petition filed by AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association. While that petition awaited FAA action for more than two years, progress on reform has been steady in recent months. The FAA has 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.

“We’re glad this issue has the FAA’s attention and the agency appears willing to make changes, but we can’t afford to sit back and wait for something to happen,” said Coon. “We need a strong show of support on all fronts so we can get pilots flying and keep them flying.”

To amplify the message that the aviation community cares about medical reform, AOPA is also collecting signatures on a life-size petition that will be traveling to major aviation events throughout the flying season. Almost 2,000 individuals signed the petition at the inaugural AOPA Fly-In in San Marcos, Texas, on April 26. The petition will be available at the AOPA Fly-In in Indianapolis on May 31 as well as EAA AirVenture, the AOPA Homecoming, and other AOPA Fly-In events.

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.