What Will the New Third Class Medical Rules Be?

The FAA announced that it has begun the rule making process to change the requirements for a Third Class medical certificate for private flying. No details have been announced, but the FAA said it is still considering the EAA/AOPA petition to allow a driver’s license to replace the Third Class for private flying in basic airplanes.

Why is the FAA finally responding after years, and even decades, of requests and petitions to change the medical requirements? My guess, and the obvious one, is that Congress has introduced legislation to force the FAA to defend and justify the current medical standards in terms of safety or change them.

The General Aviation Pilot Protection Act that has been introduced in both the House and Senate would require the FAA to expand the driver’s license medical option to a large variety of piston airplanes if it is enacted.  The FAA doesn’t want Congress making any more rules so I think the FAA is now going to finally try to take the lead on an issue that has gained huge momentum.

So what limitations do I think we can expect to be in a new driver’s license medical standard?

First, there will be a weight limit. The reason is that a private pilot can fly any size of airplane. So long as he is not being compensated a private pilot can legally fly an Airbus A380, or Boeing 747. Obviously, the FAA, and probably not even the public or Congress are going to give that unlimited privilege to a pilot without a medical certificate.

My guess is that the new rule will set the upper weight limit at 6,000 pounds. That is the weight in the legislation and it is also a long standing certification break point. Airplanes that weigh more than 6,000 pounds are still in the “small” airplane category of Part 23 but move into a class or category II with more stringent performance requirements.

It’s no more challenging to fly a Cessna 421 than an Aztec but the 421 weighs more than 6,000 pounds and is in the higher certification category. The 6,000 pound break point has been around for many, many years. Since the new rule will need a weight limit of some type I expect the FAA to default to the traditional 6,000 pound threshold.

The safety issue in aircraft weight is the threat to the public. A larger, heavier airplane can simply do more damage and potentially injure more people on the ground in a crash. The FAA will be able to defend some weight limit, and I really don’t think it will be 12,500 pounds where an airplane transitions from “small” to “large” under certification and pilot qualification rules.

I don’t expect any restriction on fixed versus retractable gear. There is no way an airplane crashing with folded wheels is a greater threat to the public than a fixed gear.

I also don’t expect the new rule to exclude twins. Same thing. It’s weight, fuel onboard and other factors that raise the risk for people on the ground, not the engine count.

IFR or VFR? I don’t think the FAA can defend a rule that makes flying IFR riskier than VFR for qualified pilots. In fact, for years many inside and outside the FAA have said IFR is safer because the trained and qualified pilot can control the airplane in the clouds or low visibility.

Will there be a limit on the number of people onboard for pilots flying with a driver’s license medical? I expect it. When a new rule is introduced changing long standing policies the FAA can make a case to Congress that the small but unknown new risk should be limited. If there are fewer people onboard fewer lives are at risk.

My hope is that we will see a limitation of six people total onboard, including the pilot. My guess is that the rule will propose a limit of four. My fear is that the limit will be two.

The bill in Congress proposes an altitude limit of 14,000 feet for the driver’s license medical. I expect the FAA to successfully defend this restriction because it is a fact that nearly all of us lose tolerance for higher altitudes and lower oxygen levels as we age. It would be hard to argue that we drive cars above 14,000 feet so I expect the FAA to hold firm on that altitude.

I am also concerned that pressurized airplanes won’t be eligible for the driver’s license medical for the same reasons as the 14,000 foot altitude limit. If the cabin were to lose pressure at high altitude the risk would be the same or greater as flying an unpressurized airplane above 14,000.

There is a 250 knot airspeed limit in the bill in Congress. It doesn’t specify if that is indicated or true airspeed, but I’m assuming that it is indicated airspeed. There has been a 250 knot speed limit below 10,000 feet for decades so a 250 knot limit on an airplane with an operating ceiling restricted to 14,000 feet wouldn’t be much of a factor.

I hope that I’m wrong and that a new rule that emerges will allow us to fly for our own personal reasons in even broader categories of airplanes. But I hoped to be watching Michigan State play in the Final Four this weekend, too. State was in the game, had a good run and came close. Now we are finally in the game for Third Class medical changes and I expect we will get much, but not everything, that we want, and we think make sense. You must walk before running, and if my hopes come true a new medical standard will at least be a trot and on our way to a full gallop.

 

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48 Responses to What Will the New Third Class Medical Rules Be?

  1. Bill Tomlinson says:

    “Obviously, the FAA, and probably not ….. Congress are going to give that unlimited privilege to a pilot without a medical certificate.” ======= Silly me. I thought Congress told the FAA what to do. Not the other way round.

  2. Kayak Jack says:

    A traditional solution for a fat organization is to remove half the people, and give them twice the work. All of a sudden, the whining and administrivia that had been required to fill their day disappears.

  3. Sarah A says:

    Another sham attempt by the FAA to keep their empire togather and avoid any serious inquest from Congress. If they give enough in this proposed new rule to derail the current effort in Congress than they stay out of the spotlight while everyone asks why is it taking this level of action to enact such simple and obvious relief from regulations that have grown to become a huge burdon with no apparant benifit to anyone but the AME community. Just remembre they can also turn around in a few years when everything has calmed down and start to whittle away at what ever relief they might provide us now. Get the bill in the House and Sentate to include IFR than pass it and start shoveling the dirt on the 3rd class medical at long last. After this the only people that would need a 3rd class are operating the big aircraft and most of them are probably going to have the 2nd class anyway.

    Two articles in a row that actually relate to Sport Aviation, this seems to be a trend…

    • Bob says:

      Sarah,
      Unfortunately, I have to agree. This appears to be nothing more than an effort by the FAA to stall Congress and look busy long enough for the issue to die down. We need to keep up the pressure on our Congressional representatives and pass the bill with IFR included.

  4. Ken says:

    How long is this purely bureaucratic, utterly useless process expected to take?

    • Mac says:

      Hi Ken,
      The FAA says it will issue some type of proposed rule change this month. Of course, an NPRM is just the start of a process that can take an unpredictable amount of time. However, if the FAA decides to grant the EAA/AOPA petition to allow “recreational” flying with a driver’s license that could happen quickly.
      The bill in Congress goes further in allowing pilots to fly larger and faster airplanes so simply granting the EAA/AOPA petition wouldn’t take the heat off of the FAA.
      Mac Mc

  5. Jon C. says:

    “allow us to fly for our own personal reasons” .. that’s a great phrase Mac. That’s what it’s all about. Fed Gov: stay out of my life (and that includes my airplane).

    • Charles P says:

      Good one Jon

      • Carve says:

        55 years of jumping through FAA hoops. Enough to give it all up. A light at the end
        of the AME’s office?? Maybe be able to stay in the saddle a bit longer.

        • Jon C. says:

          “Enough to give it all up.” Well, Carve the saddest part of all this is they don’t give a damn if we just “give it all up”. The FAA and our own Fed Gov doesn’t care one bit about the well-being of citizens who employ them. How sick is that? This is indicative of a society that has truly lost it’s groundings and is on its way to oblivion.

  6. Bruce Patton says:

    The requirement to stay under 14,000 makes no sense! 91.211 requires the use of supplemental oxygen if over 12,500 for more than 30 minutes and at all times over 14,000.
    I almost always fly based on winds aloft and personally like oxygen above 10,000. Also as a glider pilot I have spent many hours near 18,000 with oxygen and self certified prior to taking up power.

    Bruce Patton

    • Frank says:

      Wow Bruce. You are obviously an awesome pilot. You fly really really high and you took up power too? Wow.

  7. Brenda Jackson CFII says:

    The new requirement about the 3rd class medical an getting our senior pilots back in the air I think is great. We all should know these pilots,know in their hearts an mind if they are fit to fly. We need their experience an skills in the air an not on the ground. All of us will get old someday. Thank you.

  8. Bill Everson says:

    What’s your guesstimate on whether pilots with special issuances will be allowed to just use a driver’s license? From a FAA site on LSA medical issues [http://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/medical_certification/sportpilots/response7/] I copied the following: “Response by the Federal Air Surgeon: No. Special Issuance is not considered the denial of an FAA airman medical certificate. ”
    This gives me some optimism that people with SIs will be able to fly with a DL

    • Mac says:

      Hi Bill,
      Since the FAA, EAA and others involved in the process of changing the Third Class medical requirement all point to the positive experience of the driver’s license in LSA I and others expect any new rule will be the same as for LSA. That means if you have been denied a medical you probably won’t be able to use a driver’s license as medical. However, if you have received a special issuance you have not been denied the medical.
      So, if you have a disqualifying condition and don’t want to go through the special issuance process don’t apply for a medical certifiicate. Wait and see what happens. If your medical condition doesn’t meet the requirements for a driver’s license in your state you obviously won’t be able to fly with a driver’s license either.
      Mac Mc

  9. Bob McCaa says:

    Please keep the legislators on these bills. It would be just like a beucracy to attempt to stall the implementation by saying “we can’t make any changes yet, we are still studying the issue”. The FAA has had years to address the issue but have not done so until the Congress finally got involved. If we call off the Congress now, look for a long stalling process, without any good results. Let the Congress finish what it started.

    “We’re not happy ’til you’re not happy”

  10. Ron Rapp says:

    “There is no way an airplane crashing with folded wheels is a greater threat to the public than a fixed gear.” If you want to play that game, sure it is. Greater complexity means more stuff to break on those dangerous little airplanes. Worse yet, retractable gear means greater speed, and that means more energy to be dissipated in a crash. You can say the same thing for weight.

    The point is, once you go down that rabbit hole, you’ll end up with some variation of the LSA: an aircraft which is artificially crippled in order to fit into a completely arbitrary box.

    –Ron

  11. Thomas O. Palmer II says:

    KEEP CONGRESS FOCUSED! Don’t let the FAA derail this important matter.
    TOP2

  12. Joe Floyd says:

    There are a lot of hard working people in the FAA but by far it is an expanding bureaucracy!

    • Bill Tomlinson says:

      A little food for thought on expanding bureaucracies. Back in 1871 my country, Britain, had an empire covering two-thirds of the world. We ran it with 1,400 civil servants. Then we gave away the empire.

      So now we have just the home islands left. And we “need” 700,000 civil servants to run them!!

  13. David Fuller says:

    Knowing the FAAs track record it will be interesting to see what they come up with. They were asked to consider an exemption to the 3rd class medical and they came up with the sleep apnea issue instead!.. Not too much confidence here. Keep pushing the bills through congress. Please!

  14. brett hawkins says:

    The FAA has (with a few exceptions) been running the show as it pleases for nearly 60 years. Negotiating from a position of weakness is a waste of time. Please urge your members of Congress to move forward with GAPPA to give recreational flyers some sorely-needed clout.

  15. Allan says:

    Toss IFR into GAPPA as it stands and it looks pretty good. 6 seats sounds right for the proposed weight limitations. If it is 4 it would be an artificial limitation that does not make sense, and a 2 seat limit has “written by a lawyer” all over it.

    EAA and AOPA tried something small and incremental 2 yrs ago. Basically recreational pilot privileges as far as the aircraft limits go with a DL medical. The FAA sat on it and now are scrambling when their hand is being forced. Kudos to the alphabets for keeping on the pressure. Don’t settle for less than what is in GAPPA.

  16. Charlie says:

    It is clear that the FAA is and has been “considering” the EAA/AOPA Third Class petition for some time. I also agree whole heartedly with contacting your legislative representative. What I would like to know, is out of the thousands of FAA personnel, who specifically are the people “considering” the petition? Our legislative representatives have names and so do the people making the decisions at the FAA, which, by the way, is also run by our government. Blaming the FAA as a whole doesn’t seem very personal, so who about some names of those decision makers.

  17. GerryR says:

    Even doctors don’t want the third class medical requirement anymore.
    They are now afraid of increased liability exposure.

    And unless you were to get a third class medical exam before each and every flight the third class medical requirement is essentially useless.

    Pilot self-assessment for fitness-to-fly has and always will be the most important element in flying safe from a medical perspective.

    We need to completely eliminate the third class medical and all the bureaucracy that goes with it. 10 years of LSA data has proven that non-commercial pilots can fly safely on only a drivers license. Time for government to get out of the way and allow general aviation to flourish.

    .

    • Bill Tomlinson says:

      An old joke has a man walking up and down San Francisco waterfront, incessantly clicking his fingers. A passer-by ask him what on earth he is doing. He replies that he is keeping the polar bears away. The passer-by protests that there are no polar bears within 5000 miles of San Francisco. “Yes” says the man, “Effective isn’t it?”.

      Flying medicals are much like that. Year ago, a friend of mine – I’ll call him Frank Wehner, because that was his name – worked as an aircraft salesman, for which he needed a CPL. I should add that this was in South Africa, where aviation medicals are MUCH tougher than their American counterparts.

      Frank was a teetotal non-smoker, a physical fitness fanatic who jogged every day and played squash three times a week. He went for his CPL medical renewal and, to nobody’s surprise, passed with flying colours.

      Three days later, he dropped dead on the airfield, of a heart attack, aged just 41.

      And the doctors try to tell us they can predict these things? BULLSHIT!! Their fancy ECG’s and such are about as effective as the man clicking his fingers to keep the polar bears away.

      • Sarah A says:

        Gerry,

        We have recent cases of airline pilots with their 1st class medicals dropping dead at the controls here in the USA and they are trying to tell us that the 3rd class medical has any real purpose for aviation safety ? Take a minute and read the actual text that the FAA released this week and you will see what a B.S. attempt it is to cancel out the congressional action and keep things the way they are. They say things like investigating the possibility of eliminating some restrictions and maybe providing some near term relief by considering the exemption request from three years ago. What is there to consider ? We provided all the backup information that was needed then and it should have been an easy decision but no, they just sit on it year after year until we initiate a flanking maneuver in congress. Now does anyone actually think that the Federal Air Surgeon who wants to get everyone screened for Sleep Apnea is at all serious about yielding to common sense and eliminating the 3rd class medical now ? The 3rd class has to go completely for the under 12,500 lbs class and the Federal Air Surgeon and his staff along with it.

  18. James Ferguson says:

    Thank God for all of the aviation advocates and organizations who have never given up this quest!

  19. Kevin says:

    http://www.avweb.com/avwebflash/news/AMEs-Fight-Elimination-Of-Third-Class-Medical221803-1.html

    Hey all, just read on Avweb that AMEs from CAMI are fighting against the elimination of the 3rd class medical! Keep pushing Congress to pass GAPPA!!! We cannot allow CAMI AMEs to change the Congress’s, FAA’s, and AOPA/EAAs’ minds and derail this once-in-a-lifetime legislation!!!

    • Kevin says:

      I’m sorry, I didn’t mean CAMI, I meant CAMA.

    • Sarah A says:

      The battle lines are drawn and it is easy to see who is on the side of the Enemy. This Dr. Mark Eidson that the article mentions should go in to his office Monday morning and find a hundred pilots outside with picket signs questioning his dedication to the all mighty dollar over the betterment of aviation. With the 3rd class requirement lifted I am sure we will see a resurgance in light aircraft activity and the general aviation segment of the economy can use that kind of stimulus. I could easily go out and start renting aircraft putting money in the pockets of the local FBO but while LSA holds me back that will not happen.

    • brett hawkins says:

      Google something like “Mark Eidson letter” and start checking comments on other blogs. Some other AMEs are calling BS on Eidson and his letter, stating that (a) CAMA does not represent all AMEs, and (b) Eidson is NOT speaking for anyone other than himself and his like-minded buddies within CAMA. In other words, he is acting as a PR flack in a lab coat.

      GAPPA: git ‘er done.

  20. Sherwin Harris says:

    The FAA is the problem. In the process of empire building they have shown they have no consideration for the needs of the flying community. Their NPRM threat, not fact, even though they’ve had the petition for several years, demonstrates their incapacity to deliver. I’ve been abused for 20 years by their Special Issuance process for a condition, which though having a name and a diagnosis, has had NO attendant pathology. Now, by their infinite stupidity, I’ve been further abused by being jammed into LSA’s, which for a person of my dimensions (6’3″) are in my opinion, inherently unsafe. I am awaiting the restoration of some sanity to the flight situation in order to continue in the air.
    By all means, eliminate the demonstrably useless 3rd class medical. Keep the pressure on congress for passage of the Pilot Protection Act. Further, exhort the insurance companies to include coverage now for those pilots who meet the set of criteria set forth in the proposals regardless of their being in possession of a current 3rd class medical. Where the pilots med condition is not a cause of an accident, having or not having that doc should not deny coverage.

  21. brett hawkins says:

    Thanks for the link to AVWEB’s scoop on Mark Eidson’s scary letter to congress. Sorry to see the AMEs rallying to protect a small portion of their small corner of the medico-pharma industry.

    While Eidson describes the 3rd class exam as a brief and cursory experience (and it probably is, if you are 30 years old with normal health), my last exam did not build trust. The tall and thin AME said I was legally fit to fly but strongly urged me to go in for bloodwork, which is a fishing trip. WTF!? I grabbed my certificate, walked out the door and logged on for a research session. After carefully reading the AME guide to learn the actual language of the rules and standards (including “shall issue” language, same as a CW Permit) I came to view the exam as a chance for my AME to benefit his brother docs at my expense with who knows what impact on my future ability to fly.

    When I was a kid I went to the docs for several genuine emergencies and got prompt, excellent care for which I was and continue to be grateful. Now, with many docs earning their living practicing preventative medicine, which changes constantly depending on the latest study and issues “recommendations” obviously intended to scare more people into a trip to the doctor/pharmacy, I consider them an enemy, to be avoided until there is an actual medical need. Sleep apnea is only one example.

    I just turned 60. I still ride a high performance motorcycle, drive a fast car and sail a rather demanding racing dinghy, all without problems and all without medical “oversight”. Sorry, but it is time to get the docs out of the recreational flying scheme, by law if necessary.

    • Brenda Jackson CFII says:

      We hear ya. My husband still mows our grass with a push mower. He is on a total gyn 3times or more a week. Works out on a tread mill. He has passed all the medical exams FAA has asked for an still is getting a hold up on the 3rd class medical. We feel they are holding him back over his age. He is 80 years young, was a gold seal flight instructor with well over 12 thousand flight hrs. He just wants a chance to fly an teach again. We all have to stand together on this. Thank you all for your continued work to help our deserving pilots get back in the air.

    • tbinva says:

      I’m with you all the way on this one. Two weeks ago I went in for my annual physical — the normal one, not with an AME. For the first time I was presented with a “Privacy Statement” that I had to sign that informed me that my medical records will now be presented to law enforcement if they ask. Next were questions from the CDC that began with “Do you take illegal drugs?” If I did why would I admit it? I just signed a statement that said you’ll inform law enforcement! Now, I wouldn’t be caught dead taking street drugs but I refused to answer because it now constituted a stupid question. That set them off as they tried everything, everything to try to get me to answer, even if it was “No.” After the physical I had to go get blood work done. Imagine my surprise when I was presented with a bill for $80 for HIV and hepatitis C testing — again, the CDC at work — they’ve decided that anyone who could have been sexually active in the ’60s should be tested for these two diseases. Now, I regularly give blood and my donations are always tested for those two diseases, among several others. I’m clean, and these tests were totally unnecessary. From now on the doc and I are having a full briefing before we begin work. In addition, I’m considering finding my way to a new physician. What the hell ever happened to confidentiality between and doctor and patient?

      • Bill Tomlinson says:

        Maybe I’m missing something here, but why didnt you just refuse to sign their “Privacy Statement”?

  22. Roger A. Johnston says:

    I suggest limiting engine power instead of weight.
    How much weight can you get aloft with 180 Hp?

  23. Mike Berg says:

    At age near 75, I walk at least a mile daily and have a yearly physical by my doctor. I’m 5′ 9″ and weigh 160 #. During my last physical my doctor said “I wish I had your numbers”. Right now I’m flying light sport but I may want to move up to something a big heavier (GW wise) at some point. Limiting me to 1320# doesn’t make a lot of sense. If some medical problem pops up in the future I’m quite able to take care of it.

  24. tbinva says:

    As a long-time nonprofit guy, let me put my two cents in about CAMA. The Civil Aviation Medical Association is a tiny outfit, with revenues in 2012 of less than $130,000 (think in terms of what a company must make just to break even on an employee — by the time the salary and taxes are paid, plus the benefits, desk, telephone, computer, office supplies, etc., you generally need to be thinking in the $150,000-plus range — this is an entire association trying to represent its membership on less than that). While they have eight “corporate sponsors” (usually commercial companies that pay extra to support the membership), one can get an idea of how many members are in CAMA by simply dividing the $36,500 in reported dues income by the annual membership dues of $125 — which tells us that there are less than 300 dues-paying members. Contrast this with the 2,886 active U.S. AMEs reported by the FAA in March 2014 and it becomes easy to see that CAMA represents — at best — 10 percent of the active AME population. By the way, the money figures I’m reporting are in CAMA’s form 990, which is required to be turned in annually by all nonprofits and can be found on Guidestar.org (registration required but it’s free). CAMA’s much larger problem is that letter they sent to every member of congress; as a 501c(3) nonprofit, they can’t do that. They can hold educational meetings, present learned papers, but direct political lobbying — and that’s what that letter is — is a very big no-no. See the IRS website re 501c(3) political activities.

    • Sarah A says:

      So is anyone here going to report them to the IRS for unallowed political activities ??? From what I hear on Fox News we can hint that they are a Conservative Republican leaning organization when making that report and that would really do them in. Anything that helps our cause at the end of the day…

      • tbinva says:

        As an independent voter, I really don’t have a dog in the D-vs-R fight. Here in Virginia, I’m represented by a Republican at the Rep level and two Democrats in the Senate. All are, in my estimation, doing a good job. I’m not a big fan of being a single-issue voter, either. However, this is an issue that I think will come along just once; therefore, my future voting will hinge in great part on how my elected representatives supported ME in this issue that is so near and dear to my heart. So far, my Rep has acted in my favor. Of my Senators, one has given me a thoughtful reply to my letter asking for his support on the sleep apnea rulemaking bill indicating he’s basically in favor; the other had a staffer call me saying that the FAA has backed off on sleep apnea so there’s no need for worry. Wrong. So far, most of the congressional folks supporting the House and Senate versions are Republican; I don’t think this is a one-party issue, and I’m disappointed to not see more Democrats supporting it as well: doing the right thing is doing the right thing.

        • Sarah A says:

          The response you got is what really scares me. In the case of Sleep Apnea yes the FAA backed off but they could come back again and push it through before we have time to react since they already laid the ground work. The same attitude might be adopted towards GAPPA since the FAA is now “Handling It” when we know that it is just a smoke screen to deflect all the critisism they are getting. What we really need a comprehensive bill passed to reign in a bloated and out of control FAA at all levels, not just the 3rd class medical requirement, maybe a big budget slash to force them to drop all the wastefulness (last one did not work but maybe a targeted one ?). The empire is threatened and there is no telling how it might lash out so that it can be preserved and all the servants kept employeed. Our government at all levels has become bloated and out of control, just look at the harassement of pilots by CBP with all their intercepts of aircraft that never went near a border state.

  25. tbinva says:

    According to irs.gov/Charities -&-Non-Profits/Lobbying:

    “Lobbying

    In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.

    Legislation includes action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items (such as legislative confirmation of appointive office), or by the public in referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure. It does not include actions by executive, judicial, or administrative bodies.

    An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.

    Organizations may, however, involve themselves in issues of public policy without the activity being considered as lobbying. For example, organizations may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.”

    That’s the official word. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.

  26. GW says:

    “If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?”- Will Rogers (1879-1935)

  27. Sherwin Harris says:

    sure, we need to get this done

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