The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has reviewed S.571, better known as the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, and passed an amendment offered by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), bringing third class medical reform one step closer to reality. A full committee vote on the amended legislation was temporarily deferred as a result of scheduling conflicts.
“We are pleased that this vital legislation is still moving ahead, and we look forward to a full committee vote soon,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “The legislation has strong bipartisan support from senators who understand that the third class medical process is long overdue for reform and want to help hundreds of thousands of pilots fly safely without having to make repeated trips to an aviation medical examiner or submit reams of paperwork to the FAA year after year.”
The committee considered several possible amendments to the Pilot's Bill of Rights 2 at the Nov. 18 markup, including two offered by Ranking Member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), but ultimately passed only the Manchin amendment, which had strong support from the aviation community and medical professionals. One amendment offered by Nelson would have required a panel of aerospace medical experts to create a checklist of conditions that could impair the individual’s ability to safely operate an aircraft and which pilots would have to sign along with the physician’s verification. Opponents argued that doctors are well equipped and in a better position than a federal agency to know what to look for in a standard physical exam. The other Nelson amendment would have limited certain liability protections to federal employees, whereas the Manchin amendment extends those protections to federal contractors including pilot examiners, aviation medical examiners, and others. Both Nelson amendments were defeated 11-13.
“We appreciate the leadership of Senator Manchin, himself a general aviation pilot, and other committee members who recognize the significance of third class medical reform to our community,” Baker said. “The fact that this legislation has come so far is also a testament to the engagement of AOPA’s members who have contacted their elected officials more than 94,000 times so far this year to seek their support for the Pilot's Bill of Rights 2 and medical reform.”
Earlier in the week, AOPA and 16 other aviation organizations sent a letter to committee leaders urging them to pass the Pilot's Bill of Rights 2 and the Manchin amendment. In addition to promoting third class medical reforms, the amendment includes reforms to the FAA’s Notice to Airmen (notam) program, which ensures pilots receive critical safety information as part of their preflight preparation, and provides protections to volunteer pilots who fly in the public interest.
As amended, the Pilot's Bill of Rights 2 would allow hundreds of thousands of pilots who have held a valid third class medical, either regular or special issuance, within 10 years of the legislation’s enactment to fly without needing to get another FAA medical exam. It would apply to pilots flying VFR or IFR in aircraft weighing up to 6,000 pounds and carrying up to five passengers at altitudes below 18,000 feet and speeds up to 250 knots.
For pilots whose medical certificate lapsed more than 10 years before the legislation is enacted and those who have never held a medical certificate, a one-time medical certification will be required. After a pilot has been medically certified once, either through the regular or special issuance process, he or she will also be able to fly indefinitely without needing to go through the FAA medical certification process again.
Pilots who develop certain medical factors, including some cardiac, psychological, or neurological conditions, will have to get a special issuance medical one time only. Under the Manchin amendment, the FAA will have one year from the date the legislation becomes law to produce a final rule reflecting the legislation’s provisions. If the final rule is not ready by that date, pilots will be allowed to fly under the guidelines set out in the legislation without facing FAA enforcement action. For more information, visit AOPA’s frequently asked questions regarding third class medical reform.
“Senator Inhofe, Senator Thune, Senator Manchin, and our AOPA members have worked hard to keep this legislation alive at a time when Congress is faced with a litany of challenging issues,” said Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs. “Today’s action is a step forward, and we will do all we can to capitalize on this momentum to make third class medical reform a reality for the hundreds of thousands of pilots who are tired of struggling with unnecessarily cumbersome and costly regulatory hurdles.”
Once the amended version of the Pilot's Bill of Rights 2 passes the committee, it will go to the full Senate, where the legislation has 69 cosponsors. Similar legislation in the House has 150 cosponsors. After passing both bodies the bill will then go to the president for his signature.