We were all disappointed that FAA administrator Michael Huerta couldn’t tell us what is in the notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) that he signed off on before coming to Oshkosh. The actual contents of the NPRM must remain secret until it is reviewed by FAA parent Department of Transportation, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) considers financial implications of the rule for both pilots and the government.
There is lots of speculation about what the NPRM proposes, but the people who know for sure aren’t talking. Administrator Huerta says we won’t be surprised by the NPRM, but that can be read in at least two different ways. Those who expect nothing but bad from the FAA won’t be surprised if they get it in the NPRM. Those of us who remain hopeful can believe we won’t be surprised because the NPRM grants fairly wide latitude for personal flying with a driver’s license as medical certificate.
I’m guessing along with everyone else on what the NPRM actually proposes, but I am willing to make a big bet there is language in there that restricts those pilots who have been denied a medical certificate of any class. That is the standard for LSA/Sport Pilot flying. If you have been denied a medical you can’t fly using your driver’s license. Since that standard has been in place for 10 years now I feel certain it will be part of the NPRM that changes third class medical policy.
It’s vital to understand that failing an FAA medical exam is not the issue. The problem is if you can’t get a special issuance medical certificate after initially having your application for a certificate deferred.
Pilots who have gone through the process of applying for and receiving a special issuance medical certificate can fly to the Sport Pilot rule with a valid driver’s license even after the special issuance medical expires. Because that pilot persevered and completed the special issuance process they have not been denied a medical and are eligible to fly with the driver’s license.
If an AME defers your application for a medical certificate and you don’t apply for special issuance the FAA views you as being medically unfit to fly. Because both the FAA and you “know” you are unfit the driver’s license can’t apply.
So, if you have a medical certificate now, or have had one in the past that has expired, I expect you will be good to go with a driver’s license under the NPRM. If you have had a special issuance medical, even one expired, I expect you will be OK under the NPRM.
But if you have a condition that could lead to a denial of a medical you should be prepared to go through the special issuance process, or stay away from the AME. If you apply for a medical and are denied during the period while we wait for whatever new rule actually becomes law I really don’t think you will qualify to fly with a driver’s license.
I don’t want to screw up anybody’s airplane buying or selling plans but you may want to wait on closing a deal until the NPRM is published. Nobody outside the government knows for sure what airplane restrictions will be placed on pilots flying with a driver’s license or other new medical standard the NPRM may contain.
The new rule will almost certainly apply only to airplanes under a maximum weight. My hope is that weight limit is 6,000 pounds, which seems logical because that is where certification standards change for airplanes in the “small” category. But the weight limit could be lower.
The FAA also may apply the new medical standards only to airplanes under a certain maximum horsepower, or not allow retractable landing gear, or set some maximum altitude or airspeed. We just don’t know. You would hate to buy an airplane now that just nudges over some limit that is in the NPRM.
I fully expect the NPRM to restrict the number of passengers a pilot flying under the new standard can carry. I don’t know what that passenger limit will be, but I would be shocked if it allows more than three passengers for a total of four onboard, and wouldn’t be surprised if the NPRM allows only one passenger no matter how many seats are in the airplane.
There is no way to predict how long it will take DOT and OMB to clear the NPRM for publication, but until that happens, I’d wait on airplane purchase and make sure if you visit an AME you can pass the exam, or are prepared to go through the special issuance medical certification process.