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Comments make the case for medical petition

Deadline approaching for having your say

Anyone who gets into a conversation with a general aviation pilot nowadays knows that talk quickly turns to concern about the decline in the pilot population. Most pilots know someone who stopped flying out of worry about the time and expense of pursuing an application for a third class medical certificate, or they know someone who is thinking about “letting it go.” Possibly an aircraft long based at the local airstrip now sits idle, or bears a for-sale sign.

In the past, all you could do on hearing such a tale was to commiserate and express the hope that the process wouldn’t break the pilot’s will to keep going, taking one more aircraft out of local skies and sending a ripple of gloom through the aviation economy.

Not anymore.

Aviators have the FAA’s attention about a way to reinvigorate GA—but with only days left to speak your piece, it’s getting down to crunch time. Fortunately, saying what’s on your mind is as easy as drafting a brief email message, and clicking the “send” button.

As you may already know, if a medical-exemption petition submitted to the FAA by AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association prevails, pilots who fly many common single-engine aircraft for recreational purposes will be able to use a driver’s license and completion of a medical self-assessment course as the basis for self-certifying fitness for flight. That would keep more pilots flying and prevent numerous aircraft from being sold or pushed into the back of a hangar indefinitely.

How can you help? This page provides guidance about how to compose concise but effective comments on FAA Docket No. 2012-0350 that tell your personal story in the context of the overall benefit of the petition to the pilot community and the aviation economy. The information includes instructions on how to file your comments online, or how to send them in by mail instead. Tell the story in your own words, explaining how this proposal would work for you. Links are provided to sources of more information at both the AOPA and EAA websites.

Exemption ‘long overdue’

The following examples of comments already submitted on the petition make strong points in its favor, in the context of the individual pilots’ needs and experience.

“Pilots in general are healthy, intelligent people who from the day that they start flight training are totally focused on safety, to include their physical well being,” wrote one pilot. “The third class medical has never made myself or any of the many pilots that I know safer pilots. Few pilots if any would start that engine if they were unable to complete that flight because of health problems. I believe that Docket FAA-2012-0350 is long overdue and would make the National Airspace safer than it currently is.”

Comments can be brief but effective, as demonstrated by one pilot’s take on the petition’s potential to increase the ranks of aviators: “This exemption will promote continued safe recreational flying from those who currently have licenses and encourage others to get the necessary qualifications to join the flying fraternity.”

A pilot addressed the petition’s potential to improve health awareness: “The petition presents a rational, measured approach to aeromedical issues. I feel that the requirement for ongoing self assessment training every twenty four months would indeed enhance the airman’s qualifications towards being pro-active about his (or her) health and the ability to recognize potential issues regarding the exercise of their privileges. We have to determine whether or not we are able to function physically and mentally before flying anyway, medical certificate or not.”

A corporate pilot expressed support for the petition, pointing out that “the recreational pilot does not have the burden of someone else’s schedule or expectations, thus does not have the pressure to complete the flight. As pilots, we have to do this for every flight already. I also fly recreationally, with my own aircraft and can approach those flights with a totally more relaxed schedule. I strongly support the AOPA and EAA exemption as submitted and can envision using it upon my retirement from corporate aviation.”

An appeal for approval came from a sport pilot who already can fly a light sport aircraft under the provisions sought in the petition for aircraft of up to 180 horsepower: “Please consider granting the petition for allowing recreational aviation with a driver’s license and self-certification. I am a Light Sport pilot. There is one plane within 100 miles of me that is available for rental. None of the flight clubs can afford a new light sport plane. This proposal would allow me the option of joining a local flying club and renting their Cessna. I could fly much more with this option.”

A prospective pilot pointed out that flying the affordable, designated aircraft under self-certification might bring him into aviation and lead him to upgrade later. “I would be very happy to fly an existing, non-LSA Citabria, Cessna 172 or Piper Cherokee without having to go through the formal medical certification. Of course, if these turn out to be a ‘gateway’ to more complex aviation, then I'd be happy to work on my medical—but the more the initial cost is reasonable, the more likely I am to take up aviation in the first place,” he wrote.

A commenter who identified himself as a medical doctor pointed out that the sport pilot experience proves that safety has been preserved while a burden on those pilots has been lifted.

“With several years of positive experience now behind us with sport pilots operating with drivers licenses, it is clear that safety has not been sacrificed by the lack of this significant burden on pilots,” he wrote. “The decline in the number of pilots could be positively affected by removing this significant burden and safety could be improved by the safety programs that would replace it. I would strongly urge you to act favorably on this issue.”

Review the  AOPA/EAA Guide to the Medical Petition, or consult the  frequently asked questions to learn more about the exemption request. You can submit your comments and/or review previously submitted comments at the website by searching  Docket FAA-2012-0350.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Light Sport Aircraft, Pilot Health and Medical Certification, Advocacy

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