Recently, I wrote about some new legislation that had come into effect in April about Student Pilot Certificates. This seems to be a banner year for the FAA as a new piece of legislation, centered around the 3rd Class Medical was recently signed into law by the President. This particular piece of legislation has been a long time coming and allows more people the ability to exercise the privileges of their Private Pilot certificate even if they have run/will run into medical issues.
A Law 37 Years in the Making…
As early as 1979, the American Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has been petitioning the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for an extension in validity of a 3rd Class Medical from two years to three years. AOPA continued to advocate for pilots with medical issues by proposing to create a recreational, or sport pilot, certificate.
The development of the sport pilot certificate took over a decade and allowed a pilot to fly aircraft in the sport category with only a valid driver’s license instead of having to hold a 3rd Class Medical. Pilots have been using the sport pilot certificate for over 10 years now and the journey towards a reformed 3rd Class Medical started in earnest back in 2012.
Interest Groups Hard at Work…
AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) first petitioned the FAA back in early 2012 to allow pilots seeking a 3rd Class Medical exemption to fly under the following conditions:
Day Visual Flight Rules (VFR)
Up to four seats
180 horsepower engine
Fly no higher than 10,000 feet Mean Sea Level (MSL) or 2,000 feet Above Ground Level (AGL)
Carry no more than one passenger
Later, in September of the same year, the FAA closed the question period – this is referred to as a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) which lasts 90 days. There were over 16,000 comments filed under this particular NPRM with the general consensus that thousands of pilots were in favor of a 3rd Class Medical Reform. However, despite introducing the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act (GAPPA) into the House in December of that year, there was a long wait ahead for the aviation community.
The GAPPA expanded on the AOPA-EAA petition to allow pilots to carry more passengers (up to 5), fly a six-seat aircraft weighing up to 6,000 pounds under VFR conditions. In March of 2013, the GAPPA legislation was finally introduced into the Senate.
The FAA Process…
Over the next several months, the FAA began a process to review the current 3rd Class Medical rules and processes. This process was dubbed as the “Private Pilot Privileges Without a Medical Certificate”. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the FAA medical certification process was full of major flaws including technological issues, lack of clarity and inappropriate standards.
As 2014 went on, the GAPPA gained 100 sponsors in the House, and 10 in the Senate making it a very strongly supported piece of legislation. Later that summer, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced that a rule to reform the 3rd Class Medical process was being presented to the Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT had 90 days to review the rule before making a decision. EAA and AOPA continued to appeal to the DOT to quickly review the rule along with many others in both the Senate and the House that were co-sponsoring the GAPPA – however, the review was never fully completed.
In December of 2014, the 114th Congress came to an end with no progress on GAPPA and it then expired. Not one to be beaten, the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 (PBR2) was introduced into both the House and the Senate in 2015 that included the 3rd Class Medical reform which included what the GAPPA had introduced but also added the ability to fly in IFR conditions along with VFR. Between June and July of 2015, over 140,000 calls were made to elected officials encouraging support of the PBR2. Support in the House and Senate for the bill grows to over 160 co-sponsors.
All the persistence paid off when the PBR2 passed the Senate by unanimous consent on December 15, 2015. 3rd Class Medical reform language is introduced as a part of FAA reauthorization and other laws and legislation on and off again throughout 2016. Then, the big day comes when in July of 2016, the FAA funding bill is passed in both the House and senate including language for 3rd Class Medical reform. By July 15, 2016, the law was signed by President Obama singling the end of a very long process by advocacy groups, the FAA, and Congress.
So, What Does This Mean for Pilots?
After doing some research, it doesn’t appear that the rule will go into effect for another year. The FAA will be going through the rulemaking process which could take up to one year. In the meantime, here are the important facts about the 3rd Class Medical allowances:
Aircraft: Up to 6 seats, no greater than 6,000 pounds, and covered (unlike the previous iterations, no restrictions on complexity, horsepower, etc.) – sorry folks, no biplanes
Flight rules: Day/Night VFR and IFR
Passengers: Up to 5
Aeromedical: Pilots must take a free online aeromedical course every two years
Altitude: Up to 18,000 feet
Airspeed: No greater than 250 knots indicated airspeed
Pilot: A pilot cannot fly for compensation or hire
Pilots looking to take advantage of this new rule need only to have a valid U.S. driver’s license and have had held a medical certificate (regular or special issuance) in the last 10 years from the date the legislation became law.
Are You Effected by the New Law?
Are you, the reader, benefiting from this new legislation? What’s your story or thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment with stories and/or comments on the 3rd Class Medical reform.
More information about the reform can be found at www.AOPA.org and www.FederalRegister.gov.
Images courtesy of GoogleImages.com and the writer.