AOPA Advocacy at Work
I’m taking a different tack this month and focusing on a slightly different viewpoint on wellness in the form of AOPA advocacy. By now, many of you have heard and read of the joint AOPA/EAA initiative to request an exemption from the FAA that would, if accepted, allow pilots flying recreationally to be able to do so with a valid driver’s license, after completion of an online medical education program. This exemption request, which will be submitted after the first of the year, is the most current in a series of similar requests made by AOPA over the last 10 years or so.
The current request for exemption, which is different from a petition for rulemaking, capitalizes on a number of factors that haven’t been available before. One is the success of the Sport Pilot rule driver’s license medical standard that came into being in 2004. We now have some tangible data from the Sport Pilot experience that bears out the notion that the driver’s license medical standard, at least for the Sport Pilot segment of General Aviation, doesn’t diminish aviation safety.
To date, there have been no accidents in sport pilot that were associated with a medical incapacitation however, there have been accidents associated with pilots transitioning into aircraft they were unfamiliar with. Providing incentives for pilots to continue flying in aircraft that they are familiar with would reduce these types of accidents.
Another important consideration in these tough economic times is that the government is reaching high and low to save money, and the cost to pilots and to the federal government of administering 3rd class medical certification is nothing to sneeze at. Based upon FAA’s data compiled during the review in 2007 that led to the extension of duration of first and third class medical certificates, we have calculated that easing the medical certification requirements under the exemption request could save pilots more than $240 million over 10 years, and over $8 million in savings for the federal government over the same time period.
The exemption, if granted, would allow pilots to operate aircraft up to 180 horsepower, single engine, fixed gear, under day, VFR conditions, with one passenger . By allowing these aircraft to operate with the driver’s license / self-certification medical, the GA fleet would be expanded by over 56,000 airplanes that could be flown under the driver’s license self certification provision.
The system of medical self certification works because we conduct self assessments between FAA medical exams. The regulation that governs the self assessment is FAR 61.53, which prohibits pilots from flying when they have a known medical condition that would affect their ability to fly. As a community of pilots, we also hope and expect that each of us is conscientious about seeing a physician for periodic physical exams. That only makes sense, especially in an aging pilot population. The need for a medical certificate to fly should not be the motivation for staying healthy. Rather, staying healthy should itself be the motivation for seeing your family physician for an “annual body inspection.”
If our request for exemption is granted, any pilot that wishes to take part in the exemption will be required to complete an online educational course that will provide some insights into what “self certification” really means. The course content, which is still being developed, will also include an overview of common medical conditions that could lead to possible incapacitation, and training about the effects of altitude on medication usages.
We believe the time is right to rejuvenate general aviation and get more pilots flying again, but doing it safely.
Our medical exemption would add to safety by offering education on medical self-certification and by keeping pilots flying in aircraft in which they are most familiar. We will be submitting our request for exemption to the FAA after the first of the year. To find out more, or to sign up to be notified when we submit the petition, visit www.aopa.org/advocacy/medical-certification-petition.
November 17, 2011