Hal Shevers, founder of Sporty's Pilot Shop, has come out in strong support of an AOPA petition that would allow recreational pilots to use a driver's license as valid medical certification.
Under the AOPA petition, recreational pilots will be able to exercise their privileges without having to undergo an FAA third class medical examination every two or three years. The medical requirement is one of the biggest reasons why there are fewer than 400 recreational pilots in the United States today, 14 years after the certificate was established.
"The recreational certificate is already in place, and self medical certification has worked well for many years for glider pilots," said Shevers, "and is the FAA's own recommendation for the proposed 'sport pilot' certificate." Shevers was one of the driving forces behind the recreational pilot certificate and remains one of its main proponents to this day.
"The driver's license medical is a reasonable and safe standard for both sport and recreational flying," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of government and technical affairs. "Only one fifth of one percent of GA accidents was caused by medical issues."
In May 2002, AOPA responded to an FAA request for comment on a proposed rule establishing a sport pilot certificate and a light sport class of aircraft, suggesting that the FAA move expeditiously on the sport pilot certificate, while addressing the complex issues involved in creating a new class of aircraft.
AOPA praised the suggestion to use driver's licenses as evidence of basic medical fitness and suggested that proposal be expanded to include current and future recreational pilots.
In July 2002, AOPA formalized the suggestion, submitting a written petition asking the FAA to make a valid driver's license the medical standard for a recreational pilot certificate. Submitting the petition means that the FAA must publish a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) and solicit public comment.
"AOPA believes this rule could help many lapsed pilots return to flying," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Many have quit aviation due to the expense and difficulty of maintaining a current medical certificate."
In the petition, AOPA maintains that a driver's license establishes an acceptable minimum medical standard because licensing agencies throughout the United States require that applicants "attest to a basic level of health and minimum vision standard." Further, the petition points out, under federal regulations, "if a pilot knows or has any reason to know of any medical condition that would affect his or her ability to exercise the authority of a recreational pilot certificate, then the pilot would have to refrain from acting as pilot in command."
Both AOPA and Sporty's Shevers believe granting the AOPA petition could make the recreational pilot certificate what it was intended to be: a lower cost, easier stepping stone into general aviation. As Shevers points out, "Virtually no one drops out before attaining the recreational certificate, and virtually no one stays a recreational pilot."
With some 385,000 members, AOPA is the world's largest civil aviation organization, representing the interests of all general aviation pilots. Some two thirds of all U.S. pilots are members of AOPA.