Support to end 3rd Class Medical grows

GUEST EDITORIAL By DAVID WARTOFSKY

In addition to many great e-mails and telephone calls from around the USA, my petition to replace the 3rd class medical for aircraft under 6,000 lb. with a driver’s license, like for LSA pilots, has gathered almost 800 supporting comments so far.

I’ve even heard the FAA has been floating the idea of getting rid of the 3rd class entirely. Apparently chasing these around the block consumes something like half of FAA Aeromedical’s workload. Since budgets are getting really tight, maybe the time is right to shed the less essential.

In sum, the comments, e-mails and phone calls from pilots attest to an endless litany of the absurd: Those who have lost their ability to fly their RV-4s and Cessna 172s include a fireman who regularly drives a 26,000-lb. fire truck at high-speed though traffic to three-alarm fires; an armed policeman who drives — blue lights ablaze — to high-stress emergencies every day; a pilot who became dizzy once, who has since had to spend $3,500 a year to prove nothing continues to be wrong. Just this morning another pilot told me he was thinking of selling his Cessna 210 because he was dizzy on the golf course one morning, and made the mistake of mentioning it to his AME, so now he has to go through an array of tests to get “certified” every year that he will never get dizzy again. The list is endless; the theme repeats ad nauseum.

Perhaps one of the most weighty comments was submitted to the docket by the former US Air Force Director of Aeromedical Services and Chief Flight surgeon, who summarizes and concludes the pointlessness of it all.

The fact is that most of the time we pilots simply shrug off this requirement and comply without protest, because most of the time it doesn’t get in our way — until it does. However, sooner or later every pilot faces some minor anomaly, which hazards putting their 3rd class medical at risk. Do they go to the doctor, as they should, or do they stay away for fear of jeopardizing their ability to fly? Often pilots choose increased health risks over possible disclosure, for fear of endless entanglement with FAA. Is this really in the public interest?

Sooner or later every pilot becomes unsafe to fly; we all get old and feeble, some faster than others. I merely assert that deferring that determination to a distant bureaucracy, based on a “please, oh pretty please” basis is an invitation to boundless mission creep and unjustified denial of freedom: If at 100 years old we are clearly too old to fly, then surely 90 is “safer,” but then 50 is even safer, so is 40, and 30 safer still. There is no end to it, nor is there a meaningful result.

Maybe the bi-annual flight review is the best screen of pilot proficiency. Pilots are neither suicidal, nor do they want to endanger themselves, their loved ones, nor anyone on the ground. To anyone who might claim it will prevent someone crazy or suicidal from flying, it should also be obvious to everyone that person doesn’t care one whit whether his 3rd class medical is current — it is entirely irrelevant. You might as well wave a legal writ in front of a charging bull.

The economic impacts to the industry are obvious and immense: Just at the point in any pilot’s life when they can finally afford to own and operate a small airplane, their ability to operate gets placed on a yearly roulette wheel, run by a distant bureaucracy — a bureaucracy itself reluctant to “certify” that nothing will ever go wrong because, fundamentally, it knows it can’t, not really.

Recently I read of a pilot who had just passed his 1st class medical, then suddenly died of a heart attack in the cockpit. What did the 1st class medical really accomplish? What did it really certify? Will the doctor who issued it become a defendant in the inevitable lawsuit?

During my own recent 3rd class medical, the doctor also expressed concern that he was placing himself in the liability chain to certify the future condition of pilots, until their next certification, when in reality, anything might happen next week, next month, or next year. For certifying what may happen next week, why do we ask the impossible of the reluctant and unwilling?

One of the most alarming facts is that many pilots are avoiding going to doctor entirely, even for minor matters when probably they should, to avoid jeopardizing their 3rd class medicals. Considering this, I speculate that perhaps the net actual impact on public health may be negative — more pilots becoming ill, or dying, for conditions that would have been easily detected and treatable, had they been less afraid of seeing a doctor in the first place.

Most exciting to me is that pilots across the country are taking personal responsibility and initiative to contact their local congressmen and senators, to encourage and take clear legislative action. The NPRM could devolve into an endless debate about how many angels are on the head of a pin, when clear legislative action directing the FAA to amend the requirements would provide a much cleaner answer.

It is refreshing to see a true grass-roots effort, based on merit, an action by the people for the people, having an impact, instead of the usual Washington politics and posturing.

As more congressmen, senators, and other elected officials incrementally work up their nerve to weigh in, it will be interesting to see who really stands for what, based on their actions.

Paraphrasing the Chinese proverb, “We live in interesting times.” I see every sign for hope.

Want to comment on Wartofsky’s petition? Go to Potomac-Airfield.com, click on the yellow box at the top of the home page to read the petition, see other comments and make your own comment.

David Wartofsky is owner of Potomac Airfield. He can be reached at bigcheese@potomac-airfield.com.

Comments

  1. Jeff Warnock says

    Worked hard to get ready for PPL check ride. Went to renew 3rd class med and bp was too high.
    Guess the last two years and $12,000 was for nothing.
    Let’s get rid of 3rd class medical

  2. ottopilot75 says

    I am a pilot on a third class waiver.  It is very expensive and time consuming every year to renew.  I wouldn’t dare purchase an aircraft.  In my many years of flying I have always not flown if I had any disqualify problems I am still the final authority of whether I am physically able to fly.  This makes a third class physical very silly.
    Please lets all keep up the fight to eleminate the third class entirely not a weak attempt to water it down and complicate things even further. Light Sport is proof even further. Thanks David.

  3. Paul C says

    I agree AOPA and EAA both need to jump on this proposal, EAA did it with Sport Pilot and now they need to help do away with Class III medical, both associations are so damn busy worrying about membership declining what would happen if members could return and increase the membership numbers again, because pilots could return to flying after being grounded. It behooves both assocations to see this through.
    I would be a AOPA and EAA member for life with automatic credit card renewal, I might even contribute monies to AOPA’s PAC.

  4. KT says

    I almost agree with David Wartofsky’s proposal. The only flaw I see within this proposal (and also in the current Sport Pilot rules) is a drivers license medical being required. I believe that there are some people who live in places such as cities that rely on mass transit (like buses, trains, subways, etc.) and have no need for a driver’s license to drive a car. So maybe my proposal is to have a driver’s license medical OR an eye examination at the local eye doctor with relaxed eye exam standards. That way it would be the best of both worlds.

    Also, just wondering, why hasn’t AOPA or EAA help to support David Wartofsky’s proposal? Is it because they think it is not important? Or is it because they don’t know which side to take? Whatever the reason, they should definitely support David Wartofsky’s proposal!!!

  5. VICTOR ONEILL says

    I’m Pushing toward 70 years old and still riding a mountain bike, a ‘Crotch Rocket’ M/C. and driving in L.A.traffic. I feel safer and more competent at 160 IAS under the LAX veil than any of the other activities. I also get real medical exams at work and from my Health Plan. Third class medicals are like Pilot license photos!!

  6. says

    I am a clinical psychologist in rural Georgia near the newly renamed Jimmy Carter Airport. A year or so ago I had to assess a professional pilot because he became dizzy during a flight simulation exam. The exam took several days and they would not let him take time off to refill some medication he was taking (insurance prohibited him from refilling early). He failed the simulator test. He then had to re-cert with medical and then with me as well. It cost a lot of money and time, and he nearly lost his job because of it.

    Please put me on the petition to get rid of the 3rd class medical. If someone who logged numerous hours on military aircraft can be prevented from flying a prop plane due to well-controlled Type II Diabetes, logic needs to win out…and the FAA needs to use some.

  7. Micheal Jones says

    There is an obvious difference getting dizzy in a car vs airplane. Try to pull over in both and let me know the outcome. I also wear corrective lenses to fly, but I dont think that removing the medical is the answer to the problem. The point of the medical is to catch potential problems not to eliminate a heart attack. Its a simple fact that the accident rate will go up. Everyone, including myself should expect that it will get us all, quit complaining and get a sports car or boat and go fish.

  8. Robert W says

    Years ago I heard of an AME (now retired) who issued medicals on the can you “fog the mirror” principal. One applicant was asked how he felt today, answered “fine and I also took my own BP this morning”. The AME asked what it was, “140 over 83″ and that was entered on the medical application. By the way that pilot still flies. To the best of my knowledge no pilot who he issued a medical to has ever had a medical problem that resulted in a accident or incident.
    My question for Mark is does that limition on your medical prove you always wear your glasses?

  9. John Colman says

    I got tested for glycoma while getting an exam for eye glasses. I was referred to an optomologist that said I was “glacoma suspect”, but that I did not have glacoma, much less any eye damage from glacoma. The AME had me go back to the Optomoligist to get a few FAA Aeromedical forms filled out for glacoma, even though I do not have glacoma! It took several trips to the two Docs to wade through this, and eventually the FAA OK CITY AME signed off on my Class III with no restrictions for 6 years. What an expensive nuisance that was. I would support allowing Class III privledges without an AME exam.

  10. says

    check out reqirments for commerical truck licsin, your blood pressure con be as high as 179 over 119 and they will give you a 3 month physical to bring it down, no ekg required. I do not believe pilots should be grounded for blood pressure as high as 169 over 100. after thats what it used to be in 1995 before the FAA pulled a fast on the pilots and lowed it to 155 over 95 , my how we forget, the FAA medical department is the most corrupte of all the goverment agencys. how many pilots do you know have been railroadeD by tht FAA who were healthy? in alaska 51%of pilots don’t have license or medicals. I will bet their medical problems are lower than the rest of the us.after all medical problems account for one tenth of one percent of all accidents. further more 20/30 vision is good enought for the second class physical.how about a restricted third class medical that requires no exam, just fill it out, if you are reasably healthy.after all should not they[FAA[ be more concerned that you will not pass out or become incapatided?most pilots get their medical back,if they can afford it,dosen,t that tell you something. I am not talking about pilots who have strokes or heart attacks, just the average healthy pilots.how about making FAA medical ataff in oke city hold class one physicals, and if they bust one they are out of a job, just like us , I bet that would change things

  11. JS says

    Mark C – There in lies the problem. You recognize that you need glasses to see better even though not required to do so in the car. Do you really need to FAA to tell you to wear your glasses to fly, or are you responsible enough to do so on your own? I have the same situation for near vision myself. But as a private pilot, I really do believe that I can be responsible enough to carry my reading glasses with me without having a government bureaucrat write on a piece of paper that I am required to do so.

  12. Rudy H. says

    Gents, aviators, boys, men…..we’ll still want to keep the third class medical for the over 40 age Pvt pilot, passenger carrying set. (keep it valid for three or four years though)Why?? Are you ‘assigning’ an aviation knowledgeable ‘co-pilot’ for your every flight in the event that you…as PIC ‘go down’ medically….prob not! Ie. I am over ’60′; my ‘regs’ say I have a knowledgeable, co-pilot capable person along now each flight,[or I just don't fly] especially when passenger carrying. Keep that safety and welfare focus toward your passenger carrying up front, don’t lose sight of it!!…..rhh

  13. says

    David Wartofsky’s effort to validate a current driver’s license in place of the third class medical is eminently sensible and should be adopted without the usual NPRM and endless red tape delays. I’m a cardiothoracic surgeon, 87, comm & Inst (current) I’ve had my 3rd TURP a few years ago which my AME sort of threatened should have been reported. These procedures were no way related to flying or driving.I think I forgot to report my cataract removal some years ago since it was done under local and left me with vision improved over my that of my commercial physical. What’s to report?

  14. Mark C says

    Although it would benefit me greatly, I can’t agree that the 3rd class medical should be dropped. I think it should be subject to a major sanity check, but it does catch things which help make safer pilots. For example, I can pass most eye tests and get a drivers license with no trouble whatsoever. But the FAA requires me to wear glasses to fly, and they’re right to do so, I see much better with the glasses on. On the other hand, some of the bureaucratic nonsense has to stop. I have a friend who was reading the list of questions, and laughed at the “have you ever had a loss of consciousness” question. As he pointed out, yes, he’d knocked himself out falling out of a tree when he was 8, crashing a bicycle when he was 12, and getting hit with a sailboat boom in his 20’s. None of those resulted in medical attention nor is there any ongoing problem, but if he didn’t know better and answered yes, it would cost him thousands of dollars, dozens of hours, and no end of frustration begging the FAA to let him fly. And it gets worse every year, as AME’s become more terrified of lawsuits, they panic at the slightest health defect. A real good first step would be to pass a federal law unequivocally exempting AME’s from any liability should anything happen to a pilot they pass for a medical.

  15. says

    I surely hope that Mr. Wartofsky stays with this crusade and that every pilot that flies light GA joins in. I generally fly an LSA flight profile – day, vfr, solo, and I’m considering selling my RV6 just to avoid dealing with the requirement of getting an aeromedical exam. I take care of myself, but I’m just old enough to be concerned about getting trapped in a ‘gotcha’ that won’t affect my ability to fly (or drive an 18 wheeler in rush hour freeway traffic). I would be happy if either the 2 passenger LSA aircraft requirements were raised to, say, 2000 lb gross and 200 mph, or that third class medicals were eliminated for pilots under 80 (or whatever age).

    I think that the economic argument is a good one. Requiring medicals costs the government money to process that the FAA really doesn’t need to spend. However the common sense argument is the strongest one. Pilots who don’t feel good have enough common sense to stay out of the cockpit. We all know just how badly things can go wrong if we are incapacitated in the air. We all realize that you can’t just pull over and stop. How the heck is a third class ‘fog a mirror’ flight physical going to predict a sudden neurological or cardiac event?

    Go David!

  16. says

    As a Canadian with an American license and a Canadian A&P I am appalled
    at the decrease of the general aviation in the U.S. and Canada! With high insurance costs, fuel prices parts and labour, recreational flying and small business flying, not to mention the people who keep the aircraft in the air, flying is becoming cost prohibitive.
    You would think that the F.A.A. You would think the F.A.A. would be worried about their own jobs, by helping the demise of one of their largest segment of aviation!

  17. Kent Misegades says

    Sounds like a good idea, given that most medical exams for pilots are little more than “Urine yellow? See lightning? Hear thunder?”. As long as anyone, even minors, can drive overpowered motorboats, snowmobiles, ATVs, etc. at high speed in public with little more than a state tax sticker on the side, requiring all this red tape for pilots is ludicrous.

  18. JWalker says

    Yesterday I listened to a commercial airline pilot tell the story of a flight during which the pilot in command suffered a heart attack. The pilot telling the story was the copilot and was able to divert to an alternate airport and safely land the aircraft. While the pilot survived until medical care was available, he expired the next day. The rigors of the medical required for that pilot’s certificate far exceed the Class III yet it did not prevent his medical condition from placing many paying passengers in harm’s way. The time has long passed to eliminate the medical requirement for pilots exercising private pilot privileges. The requirement does little to enhance safety while it remains a roadblock to many would-be aviators.

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