I think the joint EAA/AOPA petition that would allow pilots flying to a recreational standard to use a driver’s license instead of a third class medical is the single most important change that would reduce cost and hassle for many thousands of pilots. If the FAA approves the requested exemption untold numbers of pilots will keep flying, and many, many more will learn to fly.
The petition represents the very core of EAA philosophy which is to promote aviation safety through education, not regulation. In this case, the education is online aeromedical training that would teach pilots what health issues matter to flying safety, and how to identify those conditions. Once pilots understand which medical conditions can impact flying safety they can seek treatment and not fly until they know they are as safe as possible. Learning how health issues, medications, and even temporary conditions like fatigue or distractions over personal matters, can impact safety will work to enhance safety every day on every flight. The current third class medical system works only one day every two years for most pilots, or one day every five years for younger pilots, on the day they visit the AME.
AMEs don’t have the time to train pilots about aeromedical concerns. AMEs are only there to enforce rudimentary medical standards at a single point in time. For the other 729 days between third class exams, we pilots make our own decisions on our fitness to fly. And we make those decisions without any required training.
If the EAA/AOPA petition is approved pilots will be required to study an online course making them aware of the common medical conditions that can impact safety. And they will need to pass an exam to demonstrate they learned and understand the course material. Education, not regulation.
The petition is asking for the driver’s license medical exemption only for the existing recreational flying standard. The recreational standard is flying fixed gear single engine airplanes with 180 hp or less and carrying only a single passenger in day VFR conditions. You can fly cross country, in regulated airspace, or any other type of day VFR flying your certificate and training allow. EAA and AOPA selected this standard as a starting point because this definition of recreational flying already exists in the rulebook.
And a huge number of airplanes are eligible for recreational flying. Just think, Cessna has built more than 35,000 172 Skyhawks that would qualify. And more than 30,000 Cessna 150/152 were built. And then there are the many thousands more of Cherokees, Musketeer series, and thousands upon thousands of vintage airplanes that meet the requirements. My guess is well over half of all piston singles in the country are fixed gear with 180 hp or less.
I know that many pilots are wishing that the petition included higher horsepower, or retractable gear, or flying IFR, or carrying more passengers and so on. But we and the FAA have to start somewhere to make the switch from regulation to education. If, as we all hope, the exemption is granted, we will immediately begin to build a huge data base to confirm that education works. With that data the FAA will have a basis to eventually expand the types of flying we can do with education and a driver’s license in place of a third class medical.
So far more than 2,600 pilots have commented in support of the petition, but we need more. Logging more than 3,000 comments by the time the period closes on July 2 is a noteworthy and achievable goal. Please go to www.regulations.gov and search for Docket FAA-2012-0350 where you can make your comments.
If there’s one thing we can all agree on it’s that education and training are the way to improved flight safety, and that’s what the EAA/AOPA request is all about—making better trained pilots.