Bid may have been undone by passage of FAA bill, AOPA/EAA plan
A bid by David Wartofsky, the owner of Potomac Airfield, closest of the Maryland Three airports to downtown Washington D.C., to get the FAA to replace the FAA’s third class medical with a driver’s license for private-use aircraft under 6,000 pounds has been denied.
“The FAA reviewed your petition and determined that your recommendations do not raise any immediate safety concerns that would merit initiating rulemaking action,” said John Allen, the FAA’s director of flight standards services, in the Feb. 2 letter denying the petition. “Expanding the option of relying on a valid state driver’s license in lieu of a third-class airman medical certificate to include private pilots exercising privileges in aircraft whose performance and handling qualities typically are well above current Light-Sport Aircraft limitations would require complex amendments to FAA aircraft certification, operational, and medical standards that, absent more substantive safety evidence, may prove unwise.”
Wartofsky was surprised by the denial. “My jungle drums from within the FAA from well-placed friends stated that there was a lot of support — up and down the chain of command — for my petition,” he said.
Ironically, the long-sought-for passage of a long-term FAA reauthorization bill may have put the kibosh on the petition, Wartofsky theorizes.
He believes if the long-term reauthorization hadn’t been approved, his petition “would still have been in play,” the FAA perhaps more willing to scrap all third class medicals to save the agency money. “Maybe FAA was ready to let it go, and then Congress effectively said, ‘Here’s the money anyways, go knock yourselves out!’”
In another twist, a proposal by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the Experimental Aircraft Association may also have contributed to the denial.
The AOPA/EAA plan, unveiled at the end of last year at the AOPA Aviation Summit, will ask for an exemption to allow pilots to use their driver’s license and self-certification to fly one passenger in an aircraft with fixed landing gear, four or fewer seats, one powerplant, and an engine of 180 horsepower or less, which would affect recreational pilots.
Wartofsky sees the AOPA/EAA proposal as a “weak-kneed compromise.”
“Compromising with reality perpetuates the illogical and indefensible: An FAA medical is suddenly needed for 181 hp? A medical is suddenly needed to push a gear handle down? A medical is suddenly needed to carry more than one person? A medical is suddenly required when the sun sets? C’mon. That’s just silly,” he said.
“I felt I was on the deck of the Missouri (as when Japan was about to surrender), except it was the FAA about to surrender, when instead AOPA came rushing out with their own flag of surrender!” Wartofsky continued, noting that AOPA/EAA plan may have “taken the pressure” off the FAA, presenting a half-measure that allowed the FAA to avoid a much tougher, but more realistic decision.”
Wartofsky says AOPA officials expressed to him they were worried he was asking for “too much,” adding they went ahead with their plan because they didn’t see any action on his plan. “As friends in FAA were re-assuring me, when something is already in active rulemaking, an agency is not at liberty to discuss it; hence no outside discussion,” he says.
So what’s next for Wartofsky’s quest? He believes it’s now up to Congress to force the issue.
“A key Congressional staffer supporting this immediately felt FAA’s action was simply ‘unwillingness to act on this unilaterally,” which, translated to non-Washington, D.C., speak, means the FAA was unwilling to take responsibility for such an action.
“The FAA is always worried about liability if somebody falls out of the sky,” he said. “Their action effectively kicks the ball back to Congress, for Congress to tell the FAA what to do by legislative direction.”
Wartofsky concedes in some ways timing was not on his side in this battle. He missed inserting the change into the FAA’s appropriations bill, as well as the Pilot’s Bill of Rights, introduced by Sen. Jim Inhofe and Rep. Sam Graves. However, he notes, the Bill of Rights does include a review of the medical certification process, so there is a chance that it could be considered there for further action.
“At least for the next four years, until another FAA appropriations bill comes up for negotiation, it’s really up to pilots across the USA to push their local representatives in Congress and the Senate to direct the FAA what to do,” he said.
He advises pilots to write and meet with their elected officials and ask them to support legislation directing the FAA what to do.
“Ask for copies of any correspondence they offer to write, which is your way to make sure they actually follow through, and not just lip service,” he said.
And finally, “be a ‘pain aux derriere,’ because nothing else will compel a federal agency to change except external pressure applied,” he concluded.
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