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House passes medical reform in FAA extension

The House has passed third class medical reforms as part of an extension deal with Senate negotiators to keep the FAA running through the September 2017.
The Capitol is home to the U.S. Congress. The House and Senate have significant influence over general aviation. Photo by David Tulis.

On July 11, the House passed the extension to keep the FAA operating through the end of the next fiscal year. H.R. 636, known as the “FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016,” includes the same third class medical reform language the Senate has already passed three times.

House and Senate negotiators have agreed on the provisions in H.R. 636, and it is expected to pass the Senate later this week and then be sent to President Barack Obama to be signed into law before the current FAA extension expires on July 15.

“We have been working day in and day out to win much-needed medical reforms for pilots, and the inclusion of those reforms in the FAA extension, and the House’s overwhelming support puts us one step closer to getting this to the president’s desk,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “We appreciate the leadership of Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and the steadfast support of general aviation’s friends in Congress.”

Third class medical reform was included in the House Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 introduced last year by Reps. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). Graves, Rokita, and Peterson are all AOPA members and House GA Caucus members, while Lipinski is a GA Caucus member who has been a stalwart GA supporter. The Pilot's Bill of Rights 2 garnered nearly 200 co-sponsors in the House.

“Today is a great day for general aviation” said Graves. “Many of us have been fighting for third class medical reform for well over five years and we are closer than ever to realizing our goal. It is truly a testament to the grassroots support for third class medical reform from our community and the continual advocacy of the House General Aviation Caucus and our GA industry leaders." 

Other key congressional advocates were equally pleased to see the legislation moving forward.

“As an aviator, I am pleased that the solution we negotiated makes it easier for pilots who love flying to continue doing so without onerous medical regulations,” said Rokita. “While the language does not go as far as I and other leaders have advocated, it represents real progress towards removing unneeded government bureaucracy that does nothing to maintain safety.

“I appreciate AOPA’s leadership and staff for their unwavering efforts on this important issue. I will continue to stand up for GA pilots everywhere, and look forward to continuing my efforts when Congress considers a long-term FAA reauthorization bill next year.”  

“The legislation approved by the House in the short-term extension is a long overdue victory for our nation’s general aviation pilots. This is a great example of what can be accomplished with bipartisan cooperation and stakeholder engagement,” said Lipinski and Peterson in a joint statement. “As strong supporters of general aviation, we look forward to securing additional commonsense reforms in the eventual comprehensive, long-term FAA reauthorization bill.”

In addition to medical reforms, the legislation requires the FAA to develop regulations for marking towers between 50 and 200 feet tall to improve their visibility to low-flying aircraft and help prevent accidents. Other provisions would expand the Transportation Security Administration's PreCheck program and provide protections to airline passengers, including ensuring families can sit together, allowing passengers to deplane after long waits on the tarmac, and providing fee refunds for lost and delayed baggage. The legislation does not include user fees or provisions to privatize the air traffic control system, both of which were controversial points in the FAA reauthorization process.

After the president signs the bill into law, the FAA will have up to one year to develop and issue regulations before the third class medical provisions become effective. The 10-year reachback will begin when the bill is signed by the president, but a pilot whose medical lapses between the date the legislation is signed and the time the FAA promulgates the new regulations will need to get a new medical to keep flying during the interim period.

For answers to the most commonly asked questions about medical reform, visit AOPA’s FAQ page.

How does this legislation compare with the petition that AOPA and EAA filed jointly in 2012?

The legislation greatly expands the number of pilots and aircraft who will be eligible to fly under third class medical reforms. The table below compares some of the key points.

  Original Petition New Legislative Reforms
Aircraft Specifications Up to 4 seats, 180 hp, single-engine, fixed gear Up to 6 seats, up to 6,000 lbs (no limitations on horsepower, number of engines, or gear type)
Flight Rules Day VFR Only Day and Night VFR and IFR
Passengers Up to 1 passenger Up to 5 passengers
Aeromedical Training Pilots must take a free online course every 2 years Pilots must take a free online course every 2 years
Altitude Restrictions Up to 10,000 feet or up to 2,000 feet agl Up to 18,000 feet msl


Elizabeth Tennyson
Elizabeth A Tennyson
Senior Director of Communications
AOPA Senior Director of Communications Elizabeth Tennyson is an instrument-rated private pilot who first joined AOPA in 1998.
Topics: Pilot Regulation, Advocacy, Capitol Hill

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