Every pilot I know is looking for ways to keep flying affordable. That’s especially true for those of us who fly for fun. When the return on investment comes in the form of personal enjoyment, every penny saved is a penny we can put toward that next flight.
At AOPA, we know how important controlling costs is to our members, and we’re always looking for ways to help. So more than a year ago, AOPA and EAA jointly filed a petition for a third-class medical exemption. The idea is that pilots who fly certain types of aircraft for many common types of operations would no longer need a third-class medical. Instead, with a current driver’s license they could self-assess their fitness to fly and participate in a recurrent online education program to help them make sound decisions about their health and flying.
It sounds simple enough, and it is. The driver’s license medical standard already exists and has been used safely by Sport pilots for a decade. In fact, a study by the Air Safety Institute showed that there were no accidents caused by pilot medical incapacitation between 2004 and 2011 for pilots using the driver’s license medical standard. None. Zero.
Extending the exemption would save pilots, and the government, a significant amount of money. How much money? We conservatively estimate pilots would save $241 million over 10 years and the government would save another $11 million over the same period.
So why are we still waiting for an answer from the FAA more than a year after we submitted the proposal? Good question.
If you read my column in the July issue of AOPA Pilot, you know my concerns over the inaction of federal regulatory agencies. Too often we see the FAA and other agencies lagging behind the realities of modern flying. Too often, it seems these agencies are handling sticky issues by deciding not to decide.
The evidence in favor of the third-class medical exemption is strong. We have flown similar aircraft under similar conditions for a decade with an outstanding safety record. More than 16,000 pilots have filed comments with the FAA in support of the petition. Sequestration is forcing the FAA to find cost savings, and this certainly seems to be a quick way for the agency to cut a few million dollars from its budget.
And yet we still don’t have an answer. In fact, the FAA won’t even tell us when we can expect an answer. It’s a classic case of taking something simple and making it harder than it has to be.
We don’t know when the FAA will make a decision. But we do know we won’t let the issue rest. I want to thank our AOPA members who wrote in by the thousands to give us this opportunity to make flying easier and more affordable. I promise you our regulatory affairs team will continue to promote this exemption and push the FAA to move forward. At the same time, we won’t ignore the larger problem of regulatory inaction and overreaction that drives up our costs without adding to our safety.