What To Do While Waiting for Third Class Medical Reform

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.

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40 Responses to What To Do While Waiting for Third Class Medical Reform

  1. Peter Katz says:

    While Administrator Huerta has provided some hope for reforms which might help stimulate general aviation, he does have the power to act administratively to provide us some relief right now, and should do so. The more reform languishes, the greater the general aviation decline becomes. At the present rate, the FAA will have little left to regulate if reform is relegated to the back burner which can be forced from within the bureaucracy at any time. We can’t afford to wait many months or additional years to do away with requirements which actually hurt safety by diverting resources from fundamental safety issues. In fact, some believe the effect of the third class medical has been negative by perpetuating hostility between the FAA and pilots, and giving pilots a strong incentive to stay away from healthcare providers.

  2. tbinva says:

    The President should make Mr. Huerta head of the National Security Agency — he seems to be the only person in this town who can keep a secret. That the terms of this NPRM haven’t leaked — even in the form of a rumor — is simply beyond comprehension.

  3. Sarah A says:

    That limitation that was mentioned in speculation, that if you have been turhed down for a medical the rule would not apply, has always been the Catch 22 of the Sport Pilot / LSA option. I for one would prefer not to be stuck in there but if I try and fail the option gets closed. Not that is makes sense as I am the same person, medically speaking and very much fit to fly but when trying to get an exemption for a non-typical condition is a long shot. If that limitation is upheld than there had better be a whole lot of relief in the new rule or I say stay the course and go with GAPPA.

  4. brett hawkins says:

    Huerta’s “announcement” at Oshkosh will eventually appear in some training manual for career bureaucrats under the heading of “How to get in, say nothing of substance, and get out safely. (cue noisy military precision flying team)”.

    Not being an insider, it is difficult for me to imagine exactly what is going on behind the scenes, but the stop and go pace of the announcements by Huerta, Baker and some supposedly “connected” aviation commentators (not you Mac, others) has been grimly amusing.

    Rather than await Mr. Baker’s next pronouncement that “AOPA will be vigilant!!” I prefer to monitor the schedule of proposed rulemaking found on page 26 or so of the file accessible by clicking the hotlink on the first page of the DOT’s webpage concerning significant rulemakings:


    I don’t know the policy for updating these schedules, but as of a few minutes ago, the FAA-proposed DL medcert rules had (apparently) NOT been forwarded to DOT or OMB in spite of Mr. Huerta’s assurances last week. Further, looking at the progress of various other proposed rulemakings it is obvious that the schedule, including but not limited to the length of the comments period, can easily be changed if the Agency so wishes.

    In government, the safest thing to do is to do nothing. As a 20-year PP well on the way to a grey head, I strongly recommend that older pilots hold off on new aircraft, glass panels, enhanced transponders & ELTs, expensive training and other aviation purchases until the feds either sh*t or get off the pot on this particular issue.

    • Michael Sheridan says:

      If you are correct, Huerta is a liar.

      Folks, instead of wishing and hoping regulatot/bureaucrat Huerta will do the right thing, follow the path the Pilot Bill of Rights and the recent changes forced down Huerta ‘s throat on simplifying the certification rules took: taking
      matter out of Huerta’s control and use Congress . We have advocates there who understand what a disaster the FAA is.

      • melvin Freedman says:

        Brett, you are so right. But that bill of rights fr the pvt pilot is not the Bill of Rights that built this nation. The truth is that the faa controls with the airlines our only source of mass transportation, and the american people don’t really care whether you or I fly have experienced flight.

      • Mike says:

        Yes, and don’t forget the bait and switch play……..

        • melvin Freedman says:

          Mike, I believe that the whole pvt pilot population is really chasing a ghost. The 3rd class med has had a long and not so luster effect, and its deliberate. Unfortunatley I don’t have computer skills to really do a way back look in to the faa, and of course anyone doing so would soon run into the wall, of all kinds of excuses.

  5. Lawrence Lawn says:

    Mr. Huerta has already indicated that this process could (read as will) take upward of two years. (will Mr. Huerta even be around then?)
    As a senior pilot on a special I am holding off investing in my safety and that of my passengers as my yearly medicals always leave me a doubt.
    I would love to add an ADS-B and add an autopilot but not with the constant threat that I will have to sell my bird and have to learn a new aircraft that will not be as safe as my current simple 4? seater?
    Our only true hope is to get congress to pass GAPPA.

  6. Joe says:

    A seventy-year-old guy who has been flying his whole life is denied a medical and not allowed to fly LSA. Another seventy-year-old who has never touched an airplane, has had ten heart attacks, and obtained his LSA license can fly on his driver’s license. Who is more likely to auger into a house? This would be funny if it were’t so ridiculous.

    As far as the Third Class Exemption, I hope it will fly (sorry), but the government doesn’t tend to like letting go of power. I spoke with someone about a year ago who is a prominent ASTM guy. He told me it won’t happen, because it won’t pass the “11:00 News Test.” If that house gets augered into, the news media will demand action and ask, “Who allowed this tragedy to happen?”

    Nonetheless, I will try to remain optimistic and hope I can fly the 182 without a medical. Everyone knows that the blood pressure of us old fart pilots jumps at least twenty points as soon as we pull into the parking lot of our AME.

  7. John Horn says:

    Until or unless the FAA provides some proof that the DL medical issue is advancing as a priority and has reasonable content, there should be a massive push coordinated by AOPA, EAA, etc to have the legislation before the House and Senate passed, Otherwise this issue could and will take years.

    Perhaps AOPA, EAA, etc have not been doing this because they fear the legislation would not be approved. If it was not approved, then the FAA would drop the issue because the threat of that legislation, which is what currently motivates them, would be removed.

  8. melvin Freedman says:

    Hey everybody, the faa will hang on to the 3rd med as long as they exsit. This is just another way of showing the pvt pilot population that they are incharge. sad, sad, sad.

  9. Sherwin Harris says:

    This delay has become intolerable. The FAA has failed in its mandate to promote Aviation showing neither the willingness or capability of carrying it out.
    GAPPA must be pursued and congress demanded to cut its funding to the level that reflects the elimination of their 3rd Class Medical administrative costs. Wake them up by hitting them in their overinflated budget.

    • melvin Freedman says:

      Sherwin, I must sound like a broken record, but, you saw what the faa did to congress when they threatened to shut down the towers last yr. Congress passes out.

  10. Peter A says:

    Mac is speculating as usual and it is his speculation that makes him fun to read. Once again however, he has allowed his vision to direct your economic decisions. Don’t fall for it. You may be waiting for years. You have other alternatives…not the least of which is to sell your Cherokee and buy a qualifying light sport aircraft. After all, isn’t simple flying the objective here?

    • melvin Freedman says:

      Hey Peter, you must be in the $

    • Brett Hawkins says:

      Peter A: you sir, are preaching to the choir. The problem for many of us, (perhaps psychological, but still a significant problem) is having to essentially write-off perhaps decades of investment in training and equipment to go LSA. Due to liability concerns, I would never try to sell my Glasair. If I give it up, it will be dismantled with a Sawzall and transferred to the nearest landfill.

      Next: decide whether to hop on my Ducati 999S (very thrilling, and already paid for), or cough up $180K or so for a nice Cubcrafters faux-Supercub. Do you really think the FAA cares what I do?

    • Jay says:

      How about you buy a simple $150,000 light sport and I’ll buy a simple $25,000 C-152. Then we trade planes.
      I’m speculating you won’t go for that.

      Sorry, but the new “affordable light sport” just isn’t economical for many people. Raise the light sport weight limit to accommodate legacy trainers and you’ve got something.

      • melvin Freedman says:

        Well Jay. we pilots are dreamers, and very special ones at that. But these well intended thoughs are just that to the faa. It will take a president with the right people, and thats doubtful, to make a change in an fed agency that is overbloated, loaded and just a lobbying org for the airlines.

  11. Jay says:

    Here’s an idea:
    Don’t wait on the F-A-A.
    Just pass the G-A-P-P-A.

  12. Cary Alburn says:

    I suggest that instead of speculating on what might be, either in the NPRM or in the (if it passes) pilot’s bill of rights part deux, let’s just continue motoring on as is. None of us should base our today’s decisions on tomorrow’s “what might happen” events.

    For now, when my Class II SI comes due next, I’ll go right ahead and jump the same hoops I jump every year. I’m not about to wait to see if the magic elimination of the Class III will occur, either from the FAA or through Congress.

    For now, because the ADS-B-out mandate is going to overwhelm the avionics shops during 2018 and 2019, I’m going to go ahead and equip my 172–because there is so much of the country in which I must now have a Mode C transponder, my airplane would be close to worthless without the ADS-B-out capability when it comes time to sell–and unfortunately at my age, that time will come eventually–and I might as well take advantage of the ADS-B system while I’m still flying. To wait until it is required would be much like remodeling the house to sell it, instead of remodeling it to enjoy the remodeling.


    • melvin Freedman says:

      cary, I gather you are no youngster, I guess you feel you can jump through all those med hoops. Well, you never know when you might be happy if you could only get a ie 3rd class med, and the faa says no. Well then you might speakup and join all of the pvt pilots’ that are gounded. Don’t be too anixous to get that abs-D item so fast

  13. Larry Clark says:

    The AOPA and EAA filed a petition for exemption (waiver) 2 1/2 years ago. That request is still sitting on some desk at 800 Independence Ave. in Washington. The FAA could approve that request and let a large segment of the pilot population start flying larger airplanes using the “drivers license medical” provision. No NPRM required. It could go into effect within 30 days and the FAA could watch and gather data while they plod along with a future change to the FARs.

    • melvin Freedman says:

      Larry,they could, but, what we will see at the end of the yr, will be something completely diferent. The faa is not going to give up a thing. By the way, In my time I have not ever heard of a real whistle blower in their ranks ever, have you?

  14. Buzz Baxter says:

    This is really about apples and oranges. The comparison between a largely useless third class medical and the act of taking medication that you shouldn’t take and fly have nothing to do with each other. Two things come to mind. First is Darwin’s law. The second is you can’t fix stupid. People will continue to kill themselves flying driving lying in bed or just because they don’t want to live any longer.
    Poor judgement leads the reasons in most of the cases and taking that silly medical ain’t going to fix that problem.

    • melvin Freedman says:

      Buzz, your coments are valid, but the faa isn’t believe or not concened with the actual truth of the value of the 3rd class med. Their agenda is so, that the pvt pilot population would never be able to search out the goings on with the faa and all its lobbys. The ruling that comes down the pike will never mention the 3rd class med. The aviation community is not demanding for the elimination of the 3rd class med, I guess you know that.

  15. Dennis says:

    If we are interested in getting this moving forward. We need to badger the elected officials until we get some action. In my opinion, it would be a big shot in the arm for the Local FBO’s. At $6.00 a gallon for Av gas, I don’t think the skys are going to turn Black from herds of civil aircraft..

  16. Dana says:

    Be aware that once you fill out form 8500-8 online at http://medxpress.faa.gov/ and you make an appointment with AME, you are committed to the process. Gone are the days when an AME would “just not submit the form” if he/she found an issue.

    • Brett Hawkins says:


      Not looking for an argument, but is your statement based on some formal change of FAA policy, or on your last visit to an AME who was less than helpful?

      Dr. Bruce Chien, a “super” AME, clearly advertises his standard operating procedure as “nothing will be submitted to the FAA unless we are confident you will get your 3rd Class cert”. He or someone else further stated that the 8500 forms are sort of held in limbo on a separate FAA computer and are automatically deleted if an AME does not complete an exam and notify the FAA thereof within a certain time frame (30 days?). Naturally, other AME’s may have their own personal rules for completing an exam.

      I am no expert but he unquestionably is, so I am asking.

      • melvin Freedman says:

        Brett, you brought up something that really illustrates , why the 3rd class med should go. Yes any ame can do what he wishes . The online only way to get the paperwork to the faa is just a trap.

  17. Mark B erry says:

    I just followed the link above and found the NPRM submitted, it is very lame. I will paste what it says:

    Popular Title: Private-Pilot Privileges without a Medical
    RIN 2120-AK45
    Stage: NPRM
    Previous Stage:None
    Abstract: This rulemaking would consider allowing certain operations to be conducted by individuals exercising private-pilot privileges without holding a current FAA airman medical certificate. The intended effect of this action is to provide relief from having to obtain a medical certificate for pilots engaged in low-risk flying, such as private pilots operating a small, general aviation aircraft.

    Prompting action: Secretarial/Head of Operating Administration Decision

    Rulemaking Project Initiated: 02/04/2014
    Docket Number:

    • melvin Freedman says:

      Mark, It seems that all that rule makeing is just another layer of faa rules. So you all can see, they are just preparing you for a lot of nothing.

  18. Mark B erry says:

    This document shows an END OF COMMENT DATE of 06-03-2015, they are in no hurry to move on the thing it appears!!

  19. melvin Freedman says:

    Mark, I forgot to ask you, and everybody, what is low risk flying?

  20. Robert Kelly says:

    I enjoyed reading all the comments. Unfortunately it is my belief that there will be no rule change. The only reason that the FAA agreed to to consider a rule change was to stall Congress from acting on the GAPPA hoping that the November Congressional elections would effectively kill the bill. One of three things will happen. Congress will dump the GAPPA, in which case the FAA will drop the rule change evaluation. Congress will vote on the GAPPA and it will fail, in which case the FAA will drop the rule change evaluation. Or if by some miracle it appears that the GAPPA will pass Congress then the FAA will make a rule change that isn’t helpful at all just to get Congress off their back. That’s my two cents, I really hope I’m wrong.

    • Melvin Freedman says:

      Robt, I really believe like you, and all along these past yrs, that its all really been a game with the FAA. I am disappointed that the younger pvt pilots haven’t really done their homework, ie looking into the faa and its very secretive way of doing business.

  21. Richard Stefanick says:

    They can keep secrets because they don’t do anything to keep secret. All you are going to see are request for funds to support any change. Unless there is something in it for them they will not make any changes. Bureaucracy is fed by money not common sense.

  22. Jeff W says:

    Trained and spent $12,000. 2 yrs of my life on Sunday’s. Planned on retiring and buy a Hangar Home. Busted BP by 6 points on 3rd Class. This sucks

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  24. Melvin Freedman says:

    Hey everybody, instead of wishing for these issues ie weight loss, I believe you all be best served if you looked into the faa and its bureaucracy.

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