The FAA routinely issues a ruling of equivalent level of safety (ELOS) when certifying airplanes, equipment and various flight operations. An ELOS is the FAA’s finding that an aircraft or aviation operation delivers the same level of safety that the rules require even if what has been approved does not meet the letter of the law. EAA and AOPA are asking the FAA to make an ELOS finding on the requirement for pilots to have a third class medical for recreational flying.
ELOS rulings are essential because the FARs cannot anticipate every possible way safety goals can be achieved. An ELOS does not bypass the objective of the FARs, but allows for an alternate means of achieving the safety goal.
The safety objective of the third class medical certificate is to identify people with health issues that could cause them to be incapacitated while at the controls of an aircraft. As with all FARs, the objective of the third class medical standard is to try to protect the pilot and his passengers, and also to help protect those on the ground who could be injured by a crashing airplane.
I believe the objectives of the medical certification system are good and necessary. But the EAA/AOPA petition to use a driver’s license in place of a third class medical for recreational flying purposes is an ELOS. The key element of the petition that makes it an ELOS is required aero medical health education and testing for pilots. Training pilots to identify and avoid health risks for pilots would provide the ELOS to the third class medical exam.
Under the medical certification system pilots are examined on a schedule determined by their age and the type of flying they do. Airline captains are required to carry a first class medical and must be examined as often as every six months. Commercial operations require a second class medical certificate that is good for one year. Pilots flying for their own reasons and not being paid to fly need a third class medical every two or five years depending on their age.
Between exams the rules require a pilot of any class of medical to not fly if he has a disqualifying medical condition. Great. Are we trained and tested on how to identify those conditions? No. Who’s opinion matters each day on our fitness to fly? Only our own except on that one day we go to the AME. So pilots of all levels self-certify their medical fitness every day except the one day they go to the AME for the exam.
The medical training and testing component of the EAA/AOPA petition teaches pilots the necessary information to know if a health condition puts them at risk. That would be a first in the history of the FAA and that training is clearly an ELOS to the third class medical.
The other element of the EAA/AOPA petition that provides ELOS for the public is the restriction to flying recreational standards only with a valid driver’s license. The general FAA definition of recreational flying is daylight VFR in a piston airplane with fixed landing gear, a single engine of 180 hp or less, carrying no more than one passenger. The airplane can have more than two seats, but only one passenger can be onboard.
The single passenger limit provides ELOS because the ultimate risk is limited to only two individuals in the airplane. The small size and light weight of airplanes that meet the rule minimizes the damage a crash could cause to those on the ground. That the risk is no greater for a pilot with a driver’s license flying to recreational standards than the same person with a third class medical in the same airplane is obvious to me. And should be to the FAA.
There are other data to support an ELOS for the petition including that glider and balloon pilots have flown without medical certification for decades. And that Sport Pilots have been flying with a driver’s license instead of medical certificate for nearly seven years and the NTSB has not found a medical issue to be the cause of any accident.
A huge number of pilots want to fly recreationally and most of those find the medical certificate requirement to be costly and burdensome. The pilot population is not growing and we need to keep more pilots active in the types of airplanes they already own and fly, and the EAA/AOPA petition can help do that.
I have hopes this petition will be approved because it is the first to ask for an ELOS. All other petitions have argued that medical certification does no good whatsoever. This petition says the safety goals of medical certification are logical and important but this petition offers an alternate method to achieve those goals which makes it the classic ELOS.