Congress Takes Action on Driver's License Medical

Photo © Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr

An overwhelming majority of pilots are in favor of new legislation that AOPA says would allow certain pilots to fly without an aviation medical certificate. This proposal isn't exactly new - it began years ago as a proposal addressed to the FAA but the FAA has either responded negatively or failed to act in each case.

So two members of Congress took the situation into their own hands. On December 11th, AOPA announced that a legislative proposal was submitted that would make it legal for pilots to fly without a medical certificate, as long as they remain under VFR flight rules with less than six passengers. The legislation, called the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act of 2013, is proposed by Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), House General Aviation Caucus member and Sam Graves (R-Mo.), House General Aviation Caucus Co-Chair.

It's the result of multiple failed attempts on behalf of AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) to enact an exemption to the aviation medical certificate standards. In March 2012, AOPA and the EAA submitted a combined request to the FAA to allow pilots who took additional medical training and had a valid driver's license to be exempt from the medical requirement for recreational flying purposes. Although more than 16,000 responses were collected from the aviation industry, according to AOPA, the proposal failed to manifest.

So here's the deal: The new General Aviation Pilot Protection Act proposes that pilots be allowed to fly without obtaining an aviation medical certificate under these circumstances:

  1. The pilot holds a state driver's license and complies with any medical restrictions on that driver's license.
  2. The pilot flies with no more than 5 passengers.
  3. The pilot flies in visual flight rules (VFR) only, in visual meteorological conditions (VMC).
  4. The pilot would not be able to operate:
    • for compensation or hire
    • above 14,000 feet MSL
    • above 250 knots
    • >outside the United States
  5. The pilot is restricted to flying aircraft that weigh less than 6,000 pounds with no more than six seats.

If enacted, pilots would be able to fly almost any type of single-engine piston airplane and some light twin engine aircraft like this Beech Baron 58 or a Cessna 310.

House member Rokita, a pilot himself, made this statement: “This bill eliminates a duplicative and therefore unnecessary medical certification regulation that drives up costs for pilots and prevents the general aviation industry from fulfilling its economic potential.”

Opponents:
While the overwhelming majority of pilots are in favor of the new proposal, opponents argue that pilots shouldn't be trusted to self- evaluate their own medical health. The fear is that with this initiative, many pilots will be encouraged to fly with known medical conditions and without seeking medical advice from an aviation medical examiner.

In addition, some opponents argue that a deteriorating medical condition is cause for concern and should be evaluated by a medical doctor in order to really assess the situation properly and keep pilots safe.

The role of an aviation medical examiner is also important in determining what the FAA allows and disallows when it comes to prescription medication. A regular doctor might prescribe the most common type of medication for a medical condition without regard to flying, making it possible for a pilot to be prescribed medications and given medical advice from a regular doctor that violates FAA medical policy.

Proponents:
The verdict among pilots and aviation advocate groups is almost unanimous: The act would certainly benefit pilots and the industry as a whole, making it easier for pilots to fly without going through the process of obtaining a special issuance aviation medical certificate, a lengthy but necessary process for those with both minor and major health conditions.

Proponents of the act argue that pilots are perfectly capable of self-assessing their health and flying fitness. The sport pilot certificate has demonstrated this with a perfect record so far- no light sport aircraft has crashed due to pilot medical insufficiency. And with a third class medical certificate valid time of five years, that means for the five years in between exams, pilots are self-assessing their own health already. What's to say they can't continue to do it in a safe manner, without the check-up every five years?

AOPA and the EAA are both heavy advocates of the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act, which will certainly garner more interest in aviation and potentially make it cheaper and easier to become a pilot.

Share Your Story
What do you think? Is this act a "no-brainer" or are there hidden risks that pilots are missing when advocating this proposal? Do you have a medical story to tell? Share it with us in the comments below!