The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) expressed enthusiastic support for a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today that would give the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 180 days to redefine its Third Class Medical requirements and allow greater access for pilots to fly.
The General Aviation Pilot Protection Act, proposed by Representatives Todd Rokita (R-IN) and Sam Graves (R-MO), and co-sponsored by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), would expand on a petition submitted to the FAA by AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association nearly 20 months ago. The FAA has failed to act on that joint petition, which drew more than 16,000 comments from pilots and interested parties.
Reps. Rokita and Graves are active pilots, AOPA members and members of the House General Aviation Caucus, of which Rep. Graves is the Caucus co-chair. The co-sponsors are also members of the General Aviation Caucus.
“We have waited far too long for the FAA to act on our petition,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “As a result, Representatives Rokita and Graves stepped forward to take decisive action in the best interests of fellow general aviation pilots. We appreciate their outstanding leadership on this issue and look forward to seeing this bill move forward quickly.”
The bill would significantly revise the Third Class Medical by replacing a brief, compulsory medical examination with a requirement that pilots possess a valid driver’s license as proof of health. It would also limit pilots to flying with no more than five passengers, not above 14,000 feet and at no more than 250 knots, and in aircraft that have a maximum takeoff weight of 6,000 lbs.
By way of comparison, most large sport utility vehicles on our nation’s roads weigh in excess of 6,000 pounds and can carry 6-7 passengers. These vehicles may be operated by a licensed driver, in close proximity to other vehicles, pedestrians and property. They are therefore larger and more cumbersome than the small aircraft that would be operated with proof of a valid driver’s license under the new bill.
Other conditions in the bill limit flights to visual flight rules (VFR) and to flights within the United States. Compensation for flights would also be prohibited.
The bill gives the FAA 180 days from the date the bill is enacted to adopt the changes.
"As a pilot, I am pleased to introduce this important legislation with my colleagues and fellow pilots," Rep. Rokita said. "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."
Rep. Graves stated, “For many recreational pilots, the FAA’s third class medical certification process is nothing more than a bureaucratic hoop to jump through. It discourages new pilots and does not truly improve safety. As a pilot, I have gone through this process several times. However, like all pilots, I am responsible for determining whether I am medically fit to fly during the time between my mandated medical certifications. Expanding the current exemption makes sense and will promote greater recreational aviation activity across the U.S. without an impact on safety.”
Building support for the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act will be critical to its passage, and AOPA will be calling on members to show their support in January after Congress returns from recess. Details on how members can help will be sent via email and published in upcoming issues of ePilot and on AOPA.org.
Pilots are required by federal law to hold Third, Second or First Class Medicals in order to operate aircraft. Third class medicals are common among private pilots who commonly fly for recreational purposes.
The new bill is the latest example of Congressional action that is intended to encourage the FAA to adopt policies that support general aviation. Recently, the House and Senate passed a bill that President Barack Obama signed that requires the FAA to revise its certification standards for small aircraft. Congress also effectively reversed an FAA decision earlier this year when it provided bridge funding for control towers that the FAA intended to close as part of a government-wide budget sequestration measure.