Santa and Mrs. Claus were back in the air as pilots in command, exercising their privileges under the FAA’s new Part 68, known as BasicMed, during the annual Holly Run charity fly-out Dec. 2. Aircraft owners and pilots Ralph and Laura Hoover proudly pointed their Van's Aircraft RV-7A south along the Chesapeake Bay, their Rudolph 1 call sign crackling over the radio.
They clutched boughs of holly, bags of presents, and school supplies bound for about 600 Tangier Island, Virginia, residents. Aviators help brighten the holiday because greenery for decorations doesn’t grow well in the sandy soil. The tradition began 49 years ago when Ed Nabb flew his two-person Ercoupe to the fishing village, a place where time has seemingly stood still for decades.
The Hoovers had grounded themselves from piloting duties due to “medical concerns” for the first two Holly Runs that they participated in as passengers. In 2015 Santa Hoover made a house call to cheer up a young girl who had returned from the hospital. In 2016, Hoover flew in the right seat of a Van’s Aircraft RV-10 piloted by fellow Van’s builder Mitch Lock.
Holly Run organizer and Chesapeake Sport Pilot Flight School Chief Flight Instructor Helen Woods was overjoyed when she learned both of the Hoovers had regained their flying privileges. “The FAA tried to ground Santa Claus but he’s flying again, thanks to AOPA and BasicMed,” she said by telephone.
Nearly 25,000 pilots have joined the jolly couple flying under BasicMed since the medical reforms took effect May 1, and the movement is gaining traction worldwide. Also in May, the Bahamas became the first international destination to welcome BasicMed pilots. Australia is the latest country to adopt new medical qualifications and allow general aviation pilots to visit a general practitioner.
Hoover noted that he “was right there at the very beginning” of the BasicMed roll out and studied up on the instructions and the procedures. “It was all straightforward,” he said.