Bring it on!

As we’ve done for many years, a group of AOPA staff recently got together to discuss member comments and perceptions. Although the vast majority of member comments are positive, some are not. It has been that way for decades and with AOPA membership around the 400,000 number, there will always be controversy on something we’re doing.

It’s too bad we didn’t have a mechanism, or time to answer the charges, dispel myths, correct misconceptions, and set the record straight without pulling resources from our mission. After all, in decades-old corporate fashion, responses would have to be drafted, vetted, analyzed, reviewed, etc., etc. Way too slow and cumbersome.
Not so now. What I propose is this Blog—“AOPA Sounding Board – An insiders viewpoint.” A simple, straightforward look into the reasons behind AOPA’s decisions – as I see them.

The Blog will be my response to your questions, concerns, and curiosities. Just me, with nearly 20 years experience at AOPA and 43 years in aviation, responding without editing or corporate review to the stuff that’s bugging you about AOPA.

I’ll respond to your concerns submitted via this Blog, as well as to concerns from members who call or email our Member Assistance centers. As far as being politically correct – don’t bet on it. What you’ll get is a straight-up response without the fluff, from an insider’s point of view. My intent is not to change your mind. That’s your decision. My intent IS to provide you with the facts. You can make your own decision to take them or leave them.

I do have a day job at AOPA that I very much enjoy. So, at least initially, I plan on selecting a topic every two weeks. What do you want me to respond to first? I’m ready. Bring it on.

32 thoughts on “Bring it on!

  1. Richard Dugger

    I hear many complain about AOPA promoting wine and other “off topic” items.
    I don’t have a problem with it but many others seem to.

    Like the credit card, I see it as another way to raise funds and keep dues low.
    You can sell vacuum cleaners door to door for all I care.
    What say you?

  2. Jim Herd

    Sounding Board – great concept – about time! I’m glad you are listening!
    AOPA policies have drifted away from most individual personal pilots and owners in the past few years. Examples – NextGen has virtually no benefits to pilots with fully-loaded conventional panels, so why jump on board NextGen so enthusiastically, at huge cost to members? 100LL replacement – AOPA has already conceded that 100LL must be replaced and AOPA has all-but ignored the consumer cost issue as THE primary concern of members! 406ELT – AOPA has enthusiastically embraced 406ELT and all-but ignored breadcrump tracking as an alternative. Facts indicate the opposite would be better service to members! And AOPA has been all-but passive regarding mandatory 406ELT in Canada and Mexico! Imho, none of these policy positiions serve your members well! G.A. continues to decline and COST is a huge factor – and a repeated unaddressed theme above.

  3. Anonymous

    What is your opinion on doing away with the FAA 3rd class medical? For me, I feel it is best for the 3rd class medical to be eliminated for Private Pilots, Recreational Pilots, and medically denied Sport Pilots.

    I heard from others that the 3rd class medical does nothing to prevent pilots from medical incapacitation and falling out of the sky. Also, I really have a feeling that the pilot population is decreasing because of some pilots getting denied medicals and the extreme costs for a special issuance. There is a good chance in my opinion that the pilot population would grow again if the 3rd class got eliminated-as an added bonus, maybe the economy would grow again.

    So what is your opinion on the 3rd class medical?

  4. Robert

    Yes, let us get rid of this pesky third class medical! Who is the FAA to stop us from our god given right to fly!!! How dare they ground us for the safety of ourselves and those innocent victims, I mean people on the gound…I am sick and tired of hearing about getting rid of third class medical exams for pilots! I have had field sobriety tests that were harder to pass. Sorry to say, but if you cannot pass a third class medical exam, should you really be flying? What comes up always comes down. It either comes down in control, or out of control. Please read this…..
    I am sorry but the risk of losing just one life because someone “MAY” be ok to fly periodically is unacceptable. There shouldnt even be an argument here. If you are unfit to fly, hang up your wings. If the specter of hanging up your wings is too much, there are plenty of flight instructors who would gladly accompany you on a flight, probably for the cost of lunch, if not the going rate. But hey whats life worth. Whats your life worth to you? What are the lives of the people who suffer because of an accident that was your fault, worth? The name of the game is safety. ADM!!!!

  5. thomas boyle

    Three things.
    - First, the FAA medical has virtually no predictive power. If it actually did the things you think it does, it might have value, but it doesn’t.
    - Second, if you think you’ve had field sobriety tests that were harder to pass, you’ve obviously never gotten tangled up in the bureaucracy and a**-covering that is FAA medical certification. Yes, if nothing shows up on your exam and you report nothing, the exam is trivial. But try reporting something and see what nightmare can begin. It’s not a question of being unfit to fly: you may be able to pass the 3rd class medical after months of expensive medically unnecessary tests (which you will have to repeat annually, grounded each time while you await the paperwork). Your own doctor, who knows your medical situation intimately, may be completely comfortable with your condition (knowing that you are a pilot), while the FAA may ground you. Warren Silberman himself spoken about the fact that it’s often easier to get certificated after a dangerous even like a stroke, than it is to get certificated with something much less serious – but less concrete. FAA medical certification is largely a bureaucratic exercise of putting symptoms into buckets and checking the “treated” box – or not (in which case you’re grounded).
    - Third, yes, there may be rare cases where more scrutiny would have helped (such as the one you highlight). But for every one of those, there are tens if not hundreds of pilots who refuse to have their doctors investigate often worrisome symptoms because they don’t want to report them to the FAA and face the paperwork nightmare. As the economists point out, it’s easy to see the beneficial effects of a government rule, and often much harder to see the damage it does. How many people do you think have died (mostly on the ground, by the way) because they DIDN’T go to their doctor with symptoms, when there was still time?

    1. Robert Thomas, I am glad, he wasnt airborne, and that the passengers he had on board had disembarked already. His medical, denied. This person decided to fly anyway, even though he was medically unfit. Thank god, no one was killed by his poor choice. I understand that people who want to fly, dont want to loose the privilege to fly. But as you can see, there comes a time when we have to hang up our wings when we arent medically fit to fly. He could have easily hung up the wings and not risked the lives of innocent people because he wanted to fly. Thomas, let us pretend that we did do away with the 3rd class medical and people like this took the the sky on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis. What would the increased risk to innocent people on the ground be? When does that risk go from acceptable to unacceptable? Is it acceptable when your flying might be curtailed? Does it become unacceptable when people like this are flying over your house, or the houses of your loved ones? Where would you draw the line sir?

  6. thomas boyle

    To give you just one concrete (and minor) example, after 9/11 I knew someone whose wife left him, and who went to a few sessions with a therapist to talk through his feelings. He dutifully reported these visits on his medical application – and spent more than a year trying to get his medical reinstated.
    So, a guy with the maturity to go talk to a therapist gets grounded for over a year – do you think any of his friends will be visiting therapists?
    Do you think that’s a good incentive?

  7. Finbar Sheehy

    Since you’re asking for input, I do think that AOPA tends to be caught in reactionary mode all the time when it comes to government regulation. It seems to focus a lot on preventing efforts to make our lives harder (and not always successfully) without doing much to make our lives easier by proactively pushing to lower the regulatory burden. It also shows too much of a “regulator’s mindset,” debating regulatory solutions rather than pushing for market-based solutions. I guess it’s a hazard of being based in Washington DC.
    Recently AOPA spent about 3 years trying to prevent user fees – but we all know that topic will be back again. I understand the need to react to something like that, but I see little sign of any creative thinking about this. The response was reactive – no, no, no! – and once the issue goes quiet, nothing is done until the next time around. In my opinion, “no” won’t work forever, and if that’s all we rely on, when it does fail we’ll wind up like the Europeans, getting charged $50 per call to ATC – with those calls being made mandatory, and with monopoly pricing. We need to establish other principles, like the right to opt out, like access to alternative providers (who will bid the per-call rate down to $0.04). Indeed, some of the services (weather briefings) are already being done better by market providers.
    Other good examples of AOPA “going native in DC” are the new ELT (no thought of the breadcrumb systems) and getting caught up in the weeds on ADS-B without pushing the basic questions, like “why does it need to do so much, when many of its functions are already available” and “what needs to happen to allow the electronics for a GA unit to cost no more than $500?” (After all, the core function of ADS-B is a GPS receiver that broadcasts its own position. This is not hard.)

  8. Finbar Sheehy

    Also, I’m a bit disturbed when AOPA offers services that allow it to profit from regulation-driven problems it’s supposed to be solving. The AOPA legal services plan, and medical services plan, in particular, strike me as conflicts of interest. What’s AOPA’s motivation for making the problems better, if the seriousness of the problems means that these plans are real revenue generators? Yes, as long as the problems exist, people will need plans like these from somewhere. Let AOPA spin off those services to a separate organization, by all means. But AOPA should not be profiting from problems it’s supposed to be trying to solve.

  9. Finbar Sheehy

    Your comments on medical certification are emotionally powerful but unconvincing after a moment’s thought.
    Take a different example. The fatal accident rate is much higher among pilots in the low-few-hundred hours range than among pilots in the thousand-plus hours range. Taking your logic, how many people have to die before we finally agree to move the requirement for a private certificate up to 1,500 hours?
    The fatal accident rate is much higher for flights undertaken in IMC. How many people have to die before we finally agree to ban instrument flying? Or, before we agree to ban instrument flying by anyone with less than 1,500 hours?
    The fatal accident rate is much higher for aircraft with retractable landing gear… But you get the idea.
    Arguments based on “just a single fatality is too many” don’t work.

    1. Robert

      Finbar, the arguments you make, are not apples to apples sir. If pilots, like yourself for example, are unsafe, they do not receive my endorsement to take the checkride. Nor would they pass a checkride. Why? because they are UNFIT to hold the certificate. So if pilots were crashing left, right and center. You have to ask yourself why? Is it the training? Is it the examiner? If everyone in these accidents had crashed within a month of their checkride with 50 hours total time, would that not be a logical step, to up the hours required for the certificate? But lets compare apples to apples here. Lets say those people didnt hold a pilots license, that crashed. What would you say about them? If you want to make this argument, you have to say that these people failed their checkride and were denied certification (just like they would be if they were medically unfit) because they didnt meed the standard and were not safe. What sir would or could you say then, if it was uncertificated people who were crashing airplanes and killing people? What would the headlines read? Now lets talk about IFR accidents. You are right, IFR accidents are quite fatal, percentage wise. Lets make that argument apples to apples, sir. Let us say that these pilots were not IFR current or heck, lets go for gold, they failed their instrument checkride, and therefore were never rated to fly IFR in the first place. What is it that we might say about these people? Why should they even require a rating to fly IFR?? Why cant their pilot license allow for it with no checkride needed? Because its UNSAFE. A checkride is alot like a medical exam. It is there to ensure you meet the qualifications for the privileges you seek, and that you are not going to prove dangerous. I am not done with you yet Finbar. What about those complex airplanes? without training and an endorsement from someone like myself….could you fly one of those as pilot in command??? I didnt think so. Why? Because not only do I need to train you in its systems and how to fly them, but I cannot sign you off, until in my judgement you are safe to competently operate complex airplanes. Incase the obvious isnt obvious, that is an evaluation by me, that you are safe to fly that kind of airplane. The FAA magically has decided you need this training. I got news for you bub, it isnt because they felt like it. It is because of the accidents fatal and non fatal, that kept on occuring. There is a theme here captain, and that is EVALUATION = PRIVILEGES. If you fail the evaluation, than you dont get the privileges. FINBAR! That seems so vaguely familiar this concept…but where oh where is it familiar from…oh yes people failing a medical evaluation. Just like people who fail evaluations for certificates, ratings, and endorsements do not get their privileges, so too, as logic would have it that, the same holds true for medical evaluations. So let us make a supposition that a loved one of yours died as a passenger in a crash with an uncertificated pilot, or in a crash in IMC from a non instrument rated pilot flying in conditions he was not evaluated for, and found competent to fly in. What Sir would you have to say to me then. I think, and this is conjecture on my part, that you might erase that pesky little arguments based on a single death thing. I know of alot of people who go to the bar, and leave drunk. Should we make it legal for them to drive home, just because 10000 people are killed in such accidents every year? I mean when you think about our total population, thats almost like one person being killed. And yet sir we DO have laws agains drunk driving, BECAUSE OF “just a single fatality is to many”. Because those people Finbar, are dead, but just like you they are people too. And their rights to live, trump anyones right to drive (under the influence). your counter arguments dont hold water Finbar. so says reality

  10. Robert

    I understand, we are all passionate about aviation. I also understand, that my comments may offend people who love aviation. I cant help that you disagree with me, or the FAA, or your AME, about medical qualification. I can show you more ntsb reports, and facts, and present a logical, and intellectual argument as to why we need to have such things in place. But that wont matter to many of you. We all live in our little boxes, and dont much care about things like this, until it affects us. Then we have something to say about it. Have you ever seen an airplane crash? Not on tv, not on youtube, but in reality. Have you seen someone you knew one day, then see twisted metal the next? Have you been to a funeral where tradgedy could have been prevented, but wasnt? In your boxes, human life doesnt much matter. Those are random strangers underneath you, people who dont mean a thing as you go by overhead. when medical complications, creep in your box, you will have something to say about it. “Dont impede on my right to fly, because I “might” have an accident.” ” I will be just fine.” That is human nature…we dont care about things unless they affect us, and even then we only care about how it affects US, not anyone else. It is easy to get on board with getting rid of medicals for many pilots, especially when you know that your medical may be denied in the near, or far future. But why cant you get on board with the person or people who were lost, or lost a loved one because of a medically unfit pilot, who crashed? How many people need to die, before you can admit it is a problem. Or is it that you have to lose someone because of this to understand that our right to fly ends when we pose an unnecessary risk to others. So people in the aviation community. Go on, make an argument to me about how a small group of people within a group of people who make up less than 1 half of a percent of the general population have the god given right to endanger the lives of 99.5 percent of the population, because they love to fly, but are unfit medically to fly, and will fly anyway. Help me with this concept people. Would you let airline pilots fly after smoking a joint? What about letting people drive home from the bar after a good night out? Would you let a brand new wet ink commercial pilot captain an airliner? Even after he passes a simulator ride? I didnt think so! Why? Because its UNSAFE. Could I fly an airplane after three nice drinks at the bar? Yes, and I could probably fly better than alot of people who are sober! But should I do it because I love to fly? By making this argument that we should get rid of 3rd class medicals you are equivillantly answering yes to all of these questions. But these scenarios will never happen, because the risk to innocent people is too great to allow for it. Safety is no accident, lets not forget that.

  11. Thomas Boyle

    You obviously have very strong feelings on this topic. Rather than engage in what could become a prolonged and heated debate here (before arriving, many pages later, at what I would hope could become a constructive conversation), let’s leave that for a thread about medical certification.
    This thread is responding to a request for input to AOPA.
    Our points on this topic have been made for that purpose. I suggest we move on.

  12. John

    At first, when I read Robert’s initial comments, I though his hyperbole was intended as a parody of the FAA’s over zealousness in 3rd class medical certification. Then I realized he was straight-faced serious !

    He has a very distorted conception of the nature of risk and the reasonable ranking of it. His statement:

    “I am sorry but the risk of losing just one life because someone “MAY” be ok to fly periodically is unacceptable. ” is an illustration. By that reasoning we should not drive cars, or a multitude of other activities, because we cannot tolerate the “risk of losing just one life”. With cars we have about 40,000 deaths annually. Maybe we should not drive, if we are really concerned about that risk and number of deaths. Or have a rigorous medical test for driving. Or not get out of bed in the morning. The point is that life has risk, but reasonable people know that and live with it. Robert’s emotional outburst about seeing an actual air accident scene could be applied to any kind of accident, a car accident or any other accident producing mayhem. There is nothing special about an air crash in that respect. We should not be at the service of Robert’s particular emotional tolerance for accidents. It should be based on a rational evaluation of the cost vs. benefit of the 3rd class medical as it exists now, not on some idealized risk-free utopia Robert seems to envision.
    I would hate to live in a risk free world. Why? Not because of the freedom from risk, but because of the intolerable cost of making the world risk free. The loss of freedom in other words.

    He was dead wrong about the 3rd class medical being no more stringent that passing a sobriety test. Many pointed this out. The questionnaire itself is extremely invasive and is a minefield of complications if one even mentions issues, whether or not relevant to one’s ability to fly safely. As another noted, once caught up in the FAA bureaucratic machine, things can get very difficult. Mention any questionable medication for example, and you initiate an endless chain of inquiry. Robert is perhaps very young or lucky so far, having not yet encountered the helpless feeling (and reality) of dealing with a Kafkaesque bureaucracy.

    For some, perhaps many, the exam is also an incentive to avoid proper medical care, so as to not create a “paper trail” visible to the FAA. Without this onerous exam, one would feel much freer to seek medical attention and not worry about loosing certification.

  13. B. Gary Ashworth

    From what I can see, AOPA is doing nothing to eliminate the so-called Catch-22 whereby certificated pilots with a most recent denied medical cannot fly SP/LSA. This is ridiculous and unfair to so many able pilots who just want to fly for fun. Someone in AOPA needs to lead the charge to eliminate this most unjust clause to GA.

  14. John

    I hope the drive to get rid of the 3rd class medical will get past the “talk” stage. The AOPA should do more, rather than make a “profit center” out of pilot frustration with the 3rd class medical. Here is an idea: Enlist the major GA aircraft manufacturers Piper, Cessna, Beechcraft, etc., to lobby for this. Their sales of light aircraft should be greater if the potential customer base didn’t have to worry about losing medical certification. I think this could be a good approach, although there may be some adverse logic at work that is not immediately apparent, that might prevent their cooperation on this. For example, any crash attributed to a medical reason is seized upon in the media and exaggerated. That might feed back against GA manufacturers, insurance rates, etc., and hurt a/c sales. I not saying this is really true, just something to consider. One thing about aviation is that virtually any accident is hyped in the media. You can total a car and it’s not news. But run off the runway in a C-172, it’s on the 6:00 o’clock news if not national tv. As a result there is a CYA phenomenon where bureaucrats, corporate attorneys, etc., all conspire to reduce risk to absurdly low levels.

  15. John

    The 3rd class medical can be shown to be an absurdly disproportionate risk mitigation, in terms of cost/benefit ratio . Consider this: It is estimated that outright pilot physical incapacity is responsible for about 1% of general aviation deaths. But, let’s be pessimistic, and say 5% of GA deaths are from pilot physical incapacity. Since there are only about 600 total deaths in all of GA per year, that works out to 30 deaths a year due to pilot physical incapacity. To put that in perspective to other risks, consider that about 50 deaths a year are due to lightning, 400 per year from falling out of bed! (should we have federal bed inspectors?), 740 from bicycle accidents (do we need federal regulation of bicycles ?), 565 from falls on level ground or floors (federal walking instruction anyone?), etc. etc. And of course there are 40,000+ per year deaths in automobile accidents. But if we stick to the 1% figure for GA deaths, then there are 6 deaths a year due to pilot physical incapacity! Does either figure warrant a federal bureaucracy administering the 3rd class medical ? There are innumerable other causes of death with far greater fatality numbers than due to GA pilot incapacity. The number of fatalities due to pilot incapacitation are truly infinitesimal when compared to other causes of death. When these relative statistics are seen in perspective, the obvious absurdity of the hyper-zealous medical 3rd class exam can be seen. Having an entire federal bureaucracy to harass private pilots with the 3rd class physical is a huge mis-allocation of time and tax-payer money as well as an infringement on our freedoms.

  16. Nilyn Baterna

    I really enjoy reading this article. I don’t care about the complains about AOPA on some other point that must be a competitor. I really want more details of this. Can you make a reply or another post for me.

  17. Sheila

    I really enjoyed reading your blog, showing your great concern about the thoughts of other people regarding their views & matters with AOPA. I hope everybody will be enlightened & answered satisfactorily. I have nothing against AOPA actually. I’ll keep updated with your recent posts! Thank you.

  18. Danielle

    Being on service to AOPA for long years with your expertise in your own field, I am pretty sure that any matter & issue that will be brought upon this blog will be given certain facts & explanation. Thank you for sharing this post, as for me, I don’t have an issue towards AOPA, it’s just that I commend you for having a lot of passion on your work. I’ll keep posted.

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