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Flight of the novelistFlight of the novelist

Stephen Coonts back in the air with BasicMedStephen Coonts back in the air with BasicMed

BasicMed, the FAA rule that gives eligible pilots an alternative to third class medical certification, has become the way for approximately 15,000 pilots to keep flying, in many cases without the aggravations and uncertainty of prolonged application-and-approval cycles, according to figures released in early August.

Stephen Coonts and the 2003 Cirrus SR22 he acquired to resume flying under BasicMed. Photo courtesy of Stephen Coonts.

BasicMed also has become the solution for some pilots who had found their third class medical certification process too discouraging to continue, and had stopped flying. Their return to the cockpit—and in some cases, aircraft ownership—is evidence of a hoped-for response to BasicMed that could benefit all members of the general aviation community over time.

Novelist Stephen Coonts, the author of numerous bestsellers, starting with Flight of the Intruder in 1986, is one of those returning pilots.

When his most recent special-issuance medical certificate expired in August 2015, Coonts worried that the day might come when his next application might be rejected.

“Then I couldn’t even fly a J-3” Piper Cub, he said.

In May 2016 he sold his 2003 Cirrus SR22 single-engine airplane, “and confined my aviation activities to reading Trade-A-Plane, AOPA Pilot, and suffered on airliners.”

Legislation establishing BasicMed was signed into law on July 15, 2016. In January 2017, the FAA released its final rule containing the details of the program, to go into effect on May 1.

Although a pilot who is eligible for BasicMed can take the physical examination required by the rule with any state-licensed physician, Coonts opted to take the exam with the same aviation medical examiner he had gone to for more than a decade for his special-issuance FAA medicals.

“He knew the state of my health, and he signed me off,” Coonts said.

Coonts said he recommends that any pilot should consider requesting a BasicMed exam from the aviation medical examiner he or she has visited in the past, before going elsewhere. That doctor understands aviation, and is familiar with your medical history, he points out.

Fortunately, the majority of pilots who have shared with AOPA their experience getting their BasicMed physical examination from other qualified physicians have reported a trouble-free process. Some of those pilots have said that providing the physician with information about the program in advance of the scheduled appointment was helpful.

Having been pronounced “good to go,” Coonts quickly attended to the remaining BasicMed requirement to complete an online aeromedical education course and obtain his certificate of completion.

Then it was time to move along to a new project: locating some empty hangar space, and finding something to put in that hangar.

On June 9, Coonts became the owner of another 2003 Cirrus SR22.

“So here we are, out flying,” he said by phone from an aviation-enabled August vacation in the Great Lakes.

When medical reform was making its sometimes-tortured path through the legislative process, Coonts wrote letters to elected officials to urge medical reform, and had a personal conversation with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who would become a key congressional supporter. Coonts said the cumbersome process left him convinced that without the efforts of AOPA and other aviation advocates, Congress would not have acted, and third class medical reform would have languished in the FAA’s bureaucracy.

Given the obstacles it faced, he considers BasicMed a “livable compromise” that has already benefitted thousands of pilots—and he believes BasicMed’s full impact will emerge over time.

“In the long run it will keep airports open, keep the price of used airplanes up, and keep some more people employed in the industry of general aviation,” he said.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web 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 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Medical Reform, Pilot Health and Medical Certification, Pilots

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