It’s been a year and a half since EAA and AOPA jointly filed a petition with the FAA requesting an exemption to permit pilots to fly to a “recreational” standard using a driver’s license as certification of medical fitness. The petition would also establish a requirement for pilots to be trained, and tested, on aeromedical issues that are critical in determining fitness to fly.
More than 16,000 pilots contacted the FAA last year in support of the petition, more than for any other petition on record.
But nothing has happened. The FAA has not said no, but the best spin I can put on the state of the petition is that it is stalled. I think we need to devise a compromise that may resolve a major concern of some FAA officials and get the ball rolling on approval of an exemption that gives us most of what EAA and AOPA requested.
It’s no secret that many in the FAA medical certification branch oppose the petition. Also many, if not most, Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs) who are doctors designated by the FAA to conduct FAA medical exams are also against the petition.
From what I hear one of the largest concerns the docs have about the petition is that no initial examination would be required before a pilot flies with the driver’s license. I have to say, that is something I never thought of when the petition was crafted and submitted.
My concept of the petition is that an active pilot would simply restrict his flying to a fixed gear single of 180 hp or less carrying no more than a single passenger under day VFR conditions using the driver’s license as a medical. The pilot who chooses this option would study an aeromedical course online and then be tested to be certain he understands the material. The pilot would then carry the results of that test, along with a valid driver’s license, as evidence of his medical fitness to fly under the recreational limitations.
But here’s the rub that worries some, or even most, in the medical certification operation. Because a pilot certificate does not expire it would be possible, if the petition is granted as requested, for a pilot to resume flying many years, or even decades, after his most recent medical exam. For example, a private pilot who hasn’t flown a minute as pilot in command for the last 30 or 40 years could take the online course and resume flying to the recreational standard without an AME ever looking at him.
You can imagine how big a leap that is for a medical certification office accustomed to seeing us every two years, or at least every five years for pilots under 40. And the way the petition is written it’s unclear, at least to me, if a student pilot would need the initial medical exam to take flying lessons and earn a private certificate.
What I propose—and this is only me, J. Mac, not EAA or AOPA talking—is that the petition be modified to require pilots to have an FAA medical certificate issued within a two or five year window, depending on the pilot’s age, before beginning the driver’s license recreational flying.
If you’re over 40 and had an FAA medical exam less than 25 months ago you could continue flying to the recreational standard using the aeromedical training and driver’s license after your current medical certificate expires. If it has been longer than 25 months you would need to get at least a third class medical certificate to then qualify for the driver’s license medical alternative two years later. I would also stipulate that the student pilot certificate continue to be the third class medical that it has been forever.
What my proposal would do is allow any active pilot to avoid the hassle of future medical exams. But the lapsed pilot or new pilot would still need an initial screening by an AME and could then continue later using the driver’s license and medical training.
This would be a concession, and I’m not sure it would have any safety impact, but since we are asking the FAA medical authorities to budge from a very long standing position this would be asking them to make a smaller step. Then, as years pass and data is collected, we can all know if the new driver’s license medical standard has had any impact on safety. That’s the bottom line. To get real world safety data when pilots have been trained on medical issues and make the essential educated analysis of their fitness to fly before every takeoff.
We need to do something to get the petition off the schneid. After the petition has sat on the FAA desk for so long a compromise is in order on both sides.