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.