Trust but verify

I wonder if the insurance industry will accept a “driver’s license” medical should the AOPA/EAA petition for exemption of a 3rd class medical succeed. After all, just because the FAA says I don’t need a medical to operate a Cessna 172, an underwriter doesn’t have to insure me without one. It’s their money — but my butt — on the line.

At February’s Northwest Aviation Conference I had a chance to speak with Avemco’s JJ Greenway and Mike Adams. From our discussion I took away that medical factors remain a very small part of total accident numbers. No surprise there. Further, they espoused a “wait and see” approach. There is a long way to go before the FAA signs off, if it ever does.

While in Bozeman in early March for the Montana Aviation Conference, Jason Wissmiller of Regal Aviation Insurance agreed wholeheartedly with Greenway and Adams. “We’ll see,” was his direct reply.

Even though medical factors play a small part in accidents each year, I can imagine underwriters like having that particular box checked.

I recently revisited the original announcement from AOPA/EAA. AOPA’s Craig Fuller states, “our petition would enhance safety by requiring initial and recurrent training about health awareness and medical self-certification for any pilot choosing to use the driver’s license standard.”

Immediately preceding Fuller’s quote is one from EAA’s Rod Hightower: “We have more than five years experience now with the sport pilot certificate and the driver’s license medical standard. In that time, we have not had a single medical incapacitation accident. The standard works.”

So why do we need to improve on a perfect record? More directly…HOW do we improve? After all, as Hightower states, “The standard works.”

I abhor people who complain without offering a suggestion at the same time. So, here’s my thinking on the topic.

All parties — the FAA, AOPA, EAA, insurance companies, and pilots — must agree that medical incapacitation plays a very small role in aviation accidents.

Rather than require “initial and recurrent training about health awareness and medical self-certification,” I suggest each pilot visit their general practitioner annually. At the time of the visit, the doctor will simply sign a document stating “I have completed an annual check-up.” Nothing more. That document is then sent to the FAA and my insurance provider.

If my doctor is worth anything (and he is), he will know I’m a pilot and take that into account as we discuss my overall health, or lack thereof.

An annual check-up to monitor blood pressure, weight, eye sight, hearing, cholesterol and assorted other health markers is a good idea…if I do say so myself.

With that added knowledge, and confidence, I’ll be in a better position to self-certify for flight and be a better risk for my insurance underwriter.

The AOPA/EAA exemption is really about trust. But rather than create a program, “developed by the Air Safety Institute in consultation with AOPA’s Board of Aeromedical Advisors and EAA’s Aeromedical Advisory Council,” which they believe “would provide an equivalent level of safety as a 3rd class medical,” why don’t we just go to a doctor instead.

After all, for a great many recreational pilots (and this exemption is about us) I’d much rather know about an irregular heartbeat, or pre-cancerous growth that may impact my life, not just my ability to fly.

The FAA and my insurance underwriter can trust me to not fly when my health is bad. But I’m going verify (for my own sake) that trust is well placed.


Ben Sclair is Publisher. He can be reached at




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  1. Charlie says

    Ben,  OK as a “fall back” position, but I hope we don’t start negotiations from that perspective.  I often say “the FAA makes the regulations but the insurance companies make the rules” so I agree wholly with you on that point. My fear, however, is the FAA medical people will look at this subject as “losing turf (and their job)” rather than a compromise to safety (which history shows it isn’t)

  2. Ben Sclair says

    Good point Charlie. However, being realistic, the FAA is going to have a VERY hard time letting go of the medical. If we opt-in to self-reporting an annual physical, and the insurance companies go along, then I feel it would be easier for the FAA to buy-in.

  3. Charlie says

    Ben,  Do you NEED the FAA to tell you to visit your doctor for regular checkups?  Are you that dependent on the government to make all decisions for you?  I think pilots who have enough judgement to fly an airplane will also exercise that judgement when it comes to self certifying.

  4. Frank R. Sandoval says

    As we all know, ideas through out history, have had consequences. This idea is by far the most logical, rational and appropriate solution to this issue. Note even Rene Descartes could dispute it.  

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