The Flying Physicians Association (FPA) recently polled its members and found that the flying docs overwhelmingly support the bills in Congress to reform the third class medical system.
As I’m sure you know, the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act introduced in both the House and Senate would allow pilots to fly most piston airplanes, including twins and retractables, using a driver’s license as evidence of medical fitness.
Over 81 percent of the FPA members responding to the query support implementation of the new policy. Interestingly, of the 18 or so percent of the doctors who disagree 9 percent of those don’t believe the proposed law goes far enough. Specifically that group of doctors want to see IFR flying allowed while the bill in Congress would limit pilots flying with a driver’s license to VFR only.
Add it up and 90 percent of the flying doctors in the FPA survey believe the third class medical system as it exists is not necessary, does not add to safety, and can be eliminated for private flying.
The FPA is 60 years old and is dedicated to promoting safety, education and research. The group has also worked hard to promote the use of aircraft in support of medical services and emergencies.
Like all of general aviation activity FPA membership has declined in recent years. However, new invigorated leadership has reversed the membership drop and now more doctors are joining than departing.
I’ve been fortunate to be invited to speak at several FPA events over the years and it is always a gratifying experience. The flying docs are very serious about their aviating as well as their medical practice. Despite the old saw about doctors and Bonanzas they fly a huge variety of airplanes.
A significant number of FPA members are also AMEs. When the topic of the medical certificate comes up the FPA members that I have spoken with usually split along the lines of AMEs supporting the requirement while the other flying docs do not.
The easy target to ridicule within the FAA medical system is the concept of sudden incapacitation. The idea that a third class exam assures that a pilot will not only survive, but be healthy, for the next two years is ludicrous. When I ask non-AME doctors how long they “guarantee” their patients will live they usually say something like “I think they can make it to the parking lot.”
But the thoughtful AMEs–and there are many–also discount the effectiveness of the medical certification in avoiding a sudden pilot incapacitation event. They know the entire medical industry is not capable of predicting who will be struck by a sudden illness so the third class medical exam essentially has no chance of succeeding.
But what does worry every AME who is an FPA member that I have chatted with is changes in a pilot’s cognitive ability and overall physical functioning capability, particularly as we age. Who will be there to tell us when it’s time to close our logbooks if there is no regular exam and no required visit with a medical professional?
That is a valid concern. Families face that same question when it comes time to decide if elderly parents are still fit to drive. And those decisions on how long an aging parent should drive seldom revolve around specific medical conditions as the FAA medical certification system does.
But, FPA members are all pilots and are all physicians and the huge majority reach the same conclusions about the third class medical as the rest of us who are pilots but not docs. Doctors who fly agree that the third class medical is adding a burden with very little benefit.
It will be interesting to see how the FAA defends its medical certification procedures when even a big majority of doctor-pilots don’t believe they work.
As for the really tough decision about when to close the hangar door for the last time, well, that should be made by those of us who fly with the help of people we know and trust.