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Members turn to AOPA for sport pilot answersMembers turn to AOPA for sport pilot answers

Members turn to AOPA for sport pilot answers

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Aircraft like the Aeronca 7AC
qualify as light sport aircraft.

AOPA members are turning to their association for answers about the new Sport Pilot and Light-Sport Aircraft initiative. Either by a toll-free telephone call (800/USA-AOPA) or e-mail, pilots are getting the particulars on how sport pilot affects them from the specialists in AOPA's Pilot Information Center.

"Members generally want to know one of two things," said Woody Cahall, AOPA vice president of Aviation Services. "What can I fly, and what can I do if I've been denied a medical certificate?"

Many members are pleased by the range of vintage certificated aircraft that are immediately flyable under the new rules. "I thought it was mostly ultralight stuff," said one member. In fact, eligible light-sport aircraft (LSA) include old friends like the J-3 Cub, Aeronca 7AC, Taylorcraft BC, and Ercoupe 415. (See AOPA's LSA Spotter's Guide and list of currently certificated LSA.

But more than half of the callers are upset about the Catch-22 in the rule that would have otherwise allowed a certificated pilot to fly under sport pilot rules with a driver's license in lieu of a medical certificate and a self-certification that they are medically fit to fly.

If your medical certificate has been revoked, suspended, denied, or had a special issuance withdrawn, you can't fly light-sport aircraft using your driver's license in lieu of a medical certificate. But another pilot, who may have the same medical issue but hasn't applied for a medical, can fly under the sport pilot rules.

"I'm absolutely furious with them," said one member. "We were repeatedly assured by the FAA that there were no hidden catches. That you would absolutely be able to exercise sport pilot privileges using a driver's license in lieu of a medical.... We were assured that although we needed to be able to self-certify adequate medical status to safely fly, it was NOT going to be tied to previous FAA medical denials. That turns out to be a complete lie."

Another pilot said, "It's the honest people who are being penalized."

"We certainly share member's anger and frustration over this part of the rule," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs. "This isn't what we advocated for, it isn't what we expected."

The FAA's explanation is that it couldn't permit someone to fly until a medical ineligibility is resolved. (See the FAA's medical FAQs).

"But we are working on some ways to fix, or at least minimize, the Catch-22," said Cebula.

For some members, it may be simply a matter of going back through the paperwork.

"There are many cases where a medical is denied simply because the FAA didn't get enough information or the paperwork wasn't completed properly," said Gary Crump, AOPA director of medical certification. "Our medical department can work with a member to make sure that the FAA didn't deny the medical because of a snafu."

In one particular case, a member wrote that he had been denied a medical for a vision deficiency, yet ophthalmologists had certified his vision to be 20/20 and stable.

"This member hadn't worked with our medical department before, but we reviewed his records (with his permission) and determined that he may be able to get certified under a Statement of Demonstrated Ability," said Crump.

But that still leaves those pilots who have been cleared by their doctors for everyday activities, including driving a car, and can honestly self-certify that they are healthy enough to fly but can't because of a medical denial.

"AOPA will work with the FAA to develop criteria for allowing a pilot denied a medical to still exercise sport pilot privileges," said Cebula.

"They haven't made any promises, but the FAA is open to a discussion about finding ways to get this group of pilots - as long as they're healthy - back in the air."

July 28, 2004

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