No topic has commanded the attention of the general aviation community like third class medical reform. Following the FAA’s announcement of the new BasicMed rule that will provide many with an alternative to obtaining a medical certificate, members of the GA community shared reactions ranging from enthusiastic expressions of support to reawakened hopes of returning to the sky.
On Jan. 10, the FAA released BasicMed, under which pilots who have held a valid medical certificate any time in the decade prior to July 15, 2016, may not need to take another FAA medical exam. The 10-year lookback period applies to both regular and special issuance medicals.
The online course must be taken every two years, and pilots must visit their personal physician at least every four years.
Eligible pilots who have completed the requirements will be able to pilot aircraft with up to six occupants, and weighing to 6,000 pounds, day or night, IFR or VFR, to 18,000 feet msl and 250 knots, not for compensation or hire, within the United States unless authorized by the country in which the flight is conducted.
Across AOPA’s media channels and in contacts with the AOPA Pilot Information Center, pilots weighed in on the new rule.
“Good. I just may get back into flying,” a pilot posted on AOPA’s Facebook page.
“I have been out of the left seat too long, time to go back and get my PIC status,” wrote another.
Emails to the AOPA Pilot Information Center largely reflected the optimism the new rule has generated among GA pilots—and revealed what some have been doing in the meantime.
“Interesting. I shouldn't have any problem with a medical but this sounds more workable. I know they have been working on it. I have been flying anyway without renewal on the simulator,” wrote one pilot, appending a smiling-faced emoticon to the message.
“You have done a stellar job in getting this through the FAA mill. Thank you,” wrote a member in a message representative of many AOPA received.
Another pilot shared a poignant reaction: “I have not flown in a long time but I've never given up hope of going back into the air.”
Responses ranged from the exuberant—“Woohoo, I don't have to go renew next year!” and “This is great news! Fits my flying situation perfectly. Thanks @AOPA!”—to the strictly laudatory: “Congratulations to everyone involved in making this dream a reality.”
Tweets of gratitude were sent out for the determined advocacy that brought about reform: “Without Mark Baker and @AOPA never would have happened. Thank you.”
And in an echo of immortal words spoken from the moon, a Twitter user exhorted continued progress, tweeting, “FAA ruling on 3rd class med - one less hurdle for pilots. Now to make flying cheaper.”
Members of Congress who have long stood in GA’s corner, working to bring about pilots’ rights legislation, less-costly aircraft certification, and now, medical reform, expressed satisfaction that the rule measured up to their expectations.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a member of the Senate General Aviation Caucus and a certificated flight instructor with more than 11,000 flight hours, praised the FAA’s announcement. Third class medical reform was a key provision in Inhofe’s legislation, the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2.
“The implementation of BasicMed is a huge win for the general aviation community,” he said. “The rule will cut bureaucratic red tape and will encourage pilots to disclose and treat medical conditions that may affect their ability to fly. Further, the new rule will ease the medical certification process for pilots while increasing their knowledge of risk and requiring treatment of recognized conditions. I look forward to FAA’s swift approval of AOPA’s online medical education course ‘Fit to Fly’ and look forward to working with the agency throughout its implementation process.”
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), a pilot and co-chair of the House General Aviation Caucus, issued a statement calling Jan. 10 “a great day for pilots all across the country. Many of us have been fighting for third class medical reform for well over five years, hoping to streamline and simplify the medical certification requirements for pilots. To have accomplished that goal today—after half a decade of work—is truly a testament to the grassroots support for third class medical reform from our community, and to the continual advocacy of the House General Aviation Caucus and our GA industry leaders."
Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, noted that “the updated FAA third class medical rule closely follows Congressional intent, with the comprehensive medical examination written exactly as we laid out in the law. This is a true win for the general aviation community. We have fought for years against these burdensome regulations, and I am pleased to see a third class medical reform rule that does away with unnecessary government red tape to keep the skies safe and accessible for all aviators.”
In a phone interview, Florida pilot Don Stiver, retired from a career flying military aircraft and the defense industry, said the convenience of working with his personal doctor on his continued fitness to fly would keep him in the cockpit of the Van’s Aircraft RV-8 he built “a minimum once a week” from the Merritt Island Airport. Having received an FAA medical examination “literally every year for the past 50 years,” Stiver appreciated the reduced cost the BasicMed rule afforded him, now that he flies strictly for recreation.
Stiver said he and others were still a bit stunned that BasicMed had arrived.
“Everybody’s quite surprised frankly that it has come to fruition," he said. "That’s a big deal for everybody.”