FAA Administrator Marion Blakey promised pilots longer-running medicals and a new FAA funding system that won't "stifle the GA community," during her annual speech at Oshkosh Wednesday.
Blakey said the agency has started rulemaking to extend the duration of third class medicals for pilots under age 40 from three to five years. (AOPA first petitioned for extended duration in 1979 and had met with the federal air surgeon early last year to encourage the FAA again for longer duration medical certificates.)
First class medicals would be extended to one year, but third class medicals for older pilots would still have to be renewed every two years. Second class medicals would continue to be valid for one year.
"It is estimated that these two changes will reduce annual applications by 75,000 and therefore provide better, quicker service to others," Blakey said.
And noting that medicals are a "hot button" issue for pilots, she proudly announced that the average wait for a special issuance medical had decreased from several months to 16 days. She credited several changes that have reduced the delay - all changes that AOPA has advocated for years.
One is the aviation medical examiner-assisted special issuance (AASI) program, which now allows AMEs to reissue medicals for 35 medical conditions requiring a special issuance. That program came out of recommendations that the AOPA Board of Aviation Medical Advisors made to the FAA in 2001.
Another was giving the FAA's regional flight surgeons the ability to work medical cases that previously would have been deferred to FAA's Aeromedical division in Oklahoma City, another strategy AOPA has advocated for years. And there is the Digital Imaging Workflow System (DIWS) so that FAA can review medical records electronically. AOPA lobbied Congress to get the FAA the funding to implement the system.
On the issue of FAA funding, the administrator carefully parsed her words for the general aviation audience.
She acknowledged that all the user groups - AOPA, EAA, GAMA, and NBAA - support system modernization. "Supporting it is the easy part. Paying for it is another matter," Blakey said.
She again called for a change in the way money is raised for the FAA, one that would tie the agency's revenue to its costs.
But, "This new funding system does not have to entail broad user fees for general aviation," said Blakey. "While it is important that each group pay its fair share of the costs, let me be crystal clear: We do not want to create a funding system that stifles the GA community."
Blakey conceded several of AOPA's points on the funding issue - a continued general fund contribution and continued congressional oversight of the FAA.
"There should be a healthy general fund contribution to recognize the value that the aviation system brings to the general public, even those who don't fly," Blakey said.
"Congress will continue to play a significant oversight role" under any financing structure, Blakey promised. "We want to work with the GA community and your representatives in Congress to reform the financing system in a way the facilitates modernization and allows GA to continue to thrive."
"While we appreciate the administrator's promises, the data proves that the current funding system is not broken," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "It has created and paid for the safest and most efficient system in the world, and it will continue to do so.
"We have the taxes in place to pay for a rational, well-planned system modernization. And frankly, the only user fee promise worth anything is a promise of no user fees for anyone. Period."
July 27, 2006