January 14, 2015
Contact: Steve Hedges
FREDERICK, MD – It has been nearly seven months since the Department of Transportation (DOT) began a planned 90-day review of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) proposed medical reform rule, and AOPA members and the general aviation community are frustrated by the department’s inaction, AOPA President Mark Baker told Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx in a strongly worded letter.
“Proposed medical reforms, which simply seek to expand on a standard used successfully for a decade, have been under review for three years, making it incomprehensible to many in the aviation community that no action has yet been taken,” Baker wrote in the Jan. 13 letter.
The standard, which allows some pilots to fly recreationally without obtaining a third-class medical certificate, has been in use since 2004 when the FAA adopted the Sport Pilot rule.
“The evidence is clear: Allowing pilots to fly without going through the third-class medical process is safe,” Baker wrote. “The FAA’s proposed rule would simply extend this standard to more pilots flying more types of small aircraft.”
The proposed medical reforms have the support of more than 180 bipartisan members of Congress, who co-sponsored legislation known as the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act (GAPPA) that would have allowed thousands more pilots to fly without obtaining a medical certificate. Major aviation organizations and type clubs have also publically expressed support for reforms as have the Flying Physicians Association and the AOPA Medical Advisory Board, whose members are both doctors and pilots.
Allowing reform to move forward will also save time and money for pilots and the federal government while bolstering general aviation—an industry that contributes $150 billion to the economy and supports more than $1.2 million jobs but is struggling, in part because of rising costs.
AOPA estimates that medical reform, as proposed under GAPPA, would save pilots $24.6 million every year. A conservative estimate also shows an annual savings of $1.9 million to the FAA.
Because third-class medical exams take place only once every two or five years depending on age, they are no substitute for an honest relationship with a primary care doctor and the self-assessment that pilots must conduct before every flight. To help pilots accurately assess their fitness to fly, AOPA is developing a comprehensive online educational course, which will be offered free to the public.
Baker also noted that even without a medical certification requirement pilots must undergo an evaluation with a flight instructor at least every two years to act as pilot in command. During these flight reviews, instructors evaluate the pilot’s cognitive condition, as well as his or her physical ability to safely operate an aircraft. If either is in question they do not endorse the pilot.
“Our members, the general aviation industry, members of Congress, and the American people are frustrated with our government’s inability to move efficiently and effectively on issues that will improve safety, save money, and help create jobs and support local economies,” Baker wrote. “On behalf of our members and the aviation community we must ask, when will the Department of Transportation allow third-class medical reform to move forward? The time to take action is now.”
Since 1939, AOPA has protected the freedom to fly for thousands of pilots, aircraft owners and aviation enthusiasts. AOPA is the world’s largest aviation member association, with representatives based in Frederick, Md., Washington, D.C., Wichita, Kans., and seven regions across the United States. AOPA provides member services that range from advocacy at the federal, state, and local levels to legal services, flight planning products, safety programs and award-winning media. To learn more, visit www.aopa.org.
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