Proposed legislation would cut 3rd class medical requirement for many GA pilots

Reps. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.) have introduced a bill in the U.S. House that seeks to abolish the third-class medical certificate for many pilots who fly recreationally.

The General Aviation Pilot Protection Act of 2013, co-sponsored by Reps. Bill Flores (R-Texas), Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), and Richard Hanna (R-NY), would require pilots who fly recreationally to hold a valid driver’s license in lieu of a third-class medical certificate and operate under specific limitations.

“This legislation addresses two goals EAA has long advocated: Eliminating excess red tape in the medical certification process while maintaining a safe way to keep pilots flying,” said Jack Pelton, EAA chairman of the board. “Our members and the general aviation community have long supported a change in the medical certification process. This proposal will maintain safety, reduce costs for pilots and the federal government, and allow people to pursue the unique freedom of flight in the same way they can pursue other powered recreational activities.”

The proposed rule would allow pilots to use a valid state driver’s license in place of the traditional medical certificate if the flights are:

  • Not for compensation
  • Conducted in VFR operations only, at or below 14,000 feet MSL
  • No faster than 250 knots
  • In aircraft with no more than six seats and no more than 6,000 pounds’ gross takeoff weight.

In addition to allowing pilots to operate common GA aircraft for recreational flying without a third-class medical, the bill mandates that the FAA prepares and sends a report to Congress detailing the impact of the bill’s passage on general aviation safety within five years of the bill’s enactment.

“EAA and other GA associations worked with Rep. Rokita in developing this legislation, as we are committed to lowering barriers to aviation participation,” said Sean Elliott, EAA vice president of advocacy and safety. “This legislation is a step toward both of those goals. The third-class medical certificate does little to evaluate the day-to-day fitness of pilots flying recreationally. There are better ways to maintain high medical standards for aviation and allow people the freedom to enjoy the world of flight.”

EAA and other aviation groups have regularly petitioned the FAA for medical certification updates and changes, most recently in the joint EAA/AOPA third-class medical certificate exemption request in March 2012. The FAA has yet to move on the request, despite more than 16,000 supportive comments to the docket during the public comment period, EAA officials say.


  1. David Norris says

    I design safety systems for a living and I look at these problems from that perspective. From actuary tables, a 60 year old man in a high risk group has a 1% chance of having a heart attack in a year. About 40% of all heart attacks are debilitating. The average class 3 medical holder flies about 100 hours per year or 1% of the time.

    So, take 1% (probability of having a hear attack) time 40% (probability of being incapacitated by it) times 1% (probability of being in air) so you have roughly a 10-5 probability of a heart attack leading to an accident.

    Putting this into prospective, a fatal car accident is a 10-4 probability event in any given year. So, why do we let thinks like cars slide by and not aircraft? Because the lobby for cars is so big.

  2. Stuart Fields says

    In the end, prior to getting into the Cessna 205 with 5 other people , with my 3rd class medical certificate in hand, who is it that decides whether I’m medically fit to fly that day??? ME. The same guy who is licensed to drive a heavy motor home at closing velocities with an approaching school bus loaded with children, of over 140mph…
    The logic of this 3rd class medical requirement escapes me. It costs me and the FAA $ and the benefit is at the very least negligible to non-existent.

  3. David says

    I am a physician and LSA pilot. I strongly support this bill and have written my representatives ( have you?). The present system is “the rule of opposites”. The system should make flying safer. When the rules become over bearing and part of a bureaucracy people hide their problem or don’t seek attention for it. Is a middle aged pilot with depression safer flying without treatment for fear of losing his medical? The present system is an expensive cumbersome bureaucracy that serves itself and it’s own workings while perhaps making GA less safe. Rule of opposites, the system to make things safer makes them less so.

  4. MarkH says

    In the winter of 1982-83 my brother and I decided to take the introductory flight in a Cessna 152. There are no words to describe the memory of that day. My brother & I went ahead full force, until I found out my wife was pregnant. I was totally elated to be come a father and have been the greatest joy of my life. I did have to put my flight training on hold. My brother went on to obtain licensing. When my son graduated college I was determined to get my license. That was 2007, about the time the economy fell apart. At this time I went for a check up and my blood pressure was elevated (140/80) and she put me on the minimum dosage of blood pressure meds. She said elevated pressure is hard on your eyes and organs. As the economy started to stabilize I was comfortable spending the funds for training. As I began to do research, I knew that this was going to be an uphill battle. I read the horror stories of pilots with hundreds of hours failing the 3rd. class medical. To be able to obtain my pilots license and fly is my biggest dream. I will immediately start contacting my representatives to support The General Aviation Pilot Protection Act of 2013. Many thanks to the Staff at General Aviation News, all that have proposed and support this legislation! MH

    • Jim Cates says

      I received this absurd response from my House representative….he doesnt even understand the intent or text of HR3708 How frustrating.

      Dear Mr. Cates:

      Thank you for your recent correspondence concerning H.R. 3708, the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act. I appreciate your taking the time to express your thoughts on this important matter. I am grateful for the privilege of representing you and serving as a voice for the citizens of Virginia’s Fifth District.

      As you know, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has recently proposed to significantly alter medical certification requirements with regards to general aviation pilots. Specifically, H.R. 3708 requires that any action taken by FAA regarding sleep disorders be conducted through a formal rulemaking process. While this legislation does not prohibit the FAA from implementing new medical certification requirements, it does require the FAA to go through an open rulemaking process, which allows for public input, if they choose to propose and implement new requirements.

      I do not think that the FAA should forgo the established rulemaking process. By following regular order, all parties will have the opportunity to weigh in on the issue resulting in a more sound policy decision that effectively addresses the issue in an appropriate manner. H.R. 3708 has been referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Although I am not a member of this committee, please be assured that I will keep your views in mind when H.R. 3708 comes before the U.S. House of Representatives for action.

      I hope you will stay connected to our office with updates on the latest news, legislation, and other useful information, by signing up for our e-newsletter on our website, Thank you again for your communication and please do not hesitate to contact our office with any future questions or comments.

      • Jim Cates says

        I have safely operated a 35,000 lb, 40 foot motorhome for over 2 years and 17000 miles without incident or issue. The FAA however, deems me unfit to pilot a 2 seat ultralight with my current medical status. Absurd. My personal physician will attest to my cognitive and physical well being, but the FAA feels it gains greater insight from a perfunctory physical, administered at 2 year intervals, by an “AME”. Absurd.

  5. John says

    This letter is in support of HR bill HR 3708 (The General Aviation Pilot Protection Act of 2013), sponsored by Todd Rokita (R-IN), Sam Graves (R-MO), co-sponsored by Reps. Bill Flores (R-Texas), Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), and Richard Hanna (R-NY).

    Introduction: Briefly, the bill requires the FAA to implement the driver license standard for medical certification in place of the 3rd class medical. The 3rd class medical is presently required for private recreational pilots to fly General Aviation (GA) aircraft. It has become increasingly burdensome, expensive, and far out of proportion to the risks it supposedly addresses. It is a needless burden and obstacle to GA. The bill expands the scope of aircraft that may be flown by private pilots using an alternate drivers’ license medical standard. At present, only Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) can be flown by those with a driver’s license medical. The sport pilot medical exemption (i.e., drivers license standard) for LSA aircraft was a step in the right direction. However it contains much that is illogical and arbitrary. Due to the very restrictive parameters defining a light sport aircraft (LSA), a new set of aircraft designs has been created and manufactured. Many are home-built from kits. They are flimsy, cramped, unstable, have less than certified airframes and engines, and many are subject to the vagaries of homebuilding. Quite arguably they are less safe than the older mainstream aircraft like a Cessna or Piper. Does anyone actually believe that forcing an older pilot into an LSA is safer than letting him continue to fly his familiar Cessna 172? That’s obviously silly. But it is an example of the arbitrary and illogical quality of FAA rule making. The arbitrary and capricious nature of these rules argues strongly for a revision of the power relationship between the FAA and the people who have to live under their decisions.

    The dual mandate of the FAA is to promote safety, but also promote general aviation (GA). There has evolved over the years an over-zealousness of the FAA regarding medical standards (the 3rd class medical) for private pilots. So much so, far from promoting GA, it has become a detriment to GA as a whole. The numbers of private pilots has shrunk over the last 20 years, and continues to shrink. And the entire GA industry shrinks along with it. Although there are several reasons for this shrinkage, grossly excessive medical certification hurdles are one of them. The 3rd class medical has grown into an intrusive paper inquisition. It is grossly out of proportion to anything reasonable for a private recreational pilot.

    Scope: By private pilots I refer only to recreational pilots who fly light aircraft, not airlines, commercially, or other large aircraft. This discussion pertains only to recreational private pilots, not the other categories. There is an obvious difference in certification standards reasonably needed for these 2 groups. An airline pilot may carry 500 passengers in difficult IFR conditions, and does so on a daily basis. Their aircraft are much more complex. By comparison, the private pilot flies with only a few passengers, if any, and flies a very simple aircraft, usually in VFR (clear weather) conditions.

    Overreach of the 3rd class medical: Yet, the third class medical seems more suited for screening for an astronaut program, than for recreational pilots. It has a very intrusive questionnaire, which asks if you have, or ever in your life had such and such condition or taken such and such medication. It includes traffic history and criminal history. Each item you answer “yes” to, will be reviewed upon each subsequent periodic physical. Far-fetched ailments are endlessly reviewed while your medical certificate is on hold. This costs a lot of time and money. Have or had high blood pressure? ever taken a sleeping pill? have allergies? OTC medications? Sleep apnea? marriage counseling? Depressed? have arthritis?, overweight, etc.? Answering “yes” to any of these, or many others, will likely trigger an investigation of your medical history that may ground you for a long time. And once listed, it will be reviewed each time you apply to renew your medical. And the latest thing: The FAA medical is now going to measure for obesity and test for sleep apnea. These are conditions far removed from immediate risks. This is being done despite widespread protest from pilot organizations and despite the FAA pushing this through without the required rule-changing protocols. These are new categories for grounding private pilots, but like many others, are only long term risk factors, not imminent dangers. For example, someone who is obese or has high blood pressure might have a stroke in the next 20 years. As might anyone. While an aircraft owner is caught in this bureaucratic red tape, his $100,000+ aircraft sits unused. The questionnaire has draconian penalties for false statements-5 years in prison and $250,000 fine. All this before a private pilot can recreationally fly VFR in a light plane.

    Relative numbers and risk: All This is hugely out of proportion to the risks the 3rd class medical supposedly addresses. To see this clearly we must discuss relative numbers and risks in a larger context. It is easy to be caught up in debates about the minutiae of various medical conditions. But The real absurdity of FAA 3rd class policies cannot be seen without looking at the larger context, which is the main argument of this letter:

    In all of general aviation (GA), there are about 450-500 deaths a year. Of those, very few are due to outright medical impairment. Overwhelmingly, they are due to mechanical malfunction (itself many causes), bad weather, poor judgment, alcohol or drugs, and fluke accidents. These are all factors unrelated to anything preventable by the 3rd class medical. But, let us say that 10% are due to medical incapacitation. That is probably a high estimate. Assuming that, it means that about 45-50 deaths a year occur from medical incapacitation in all of GA. Note that number is roughly in the same ballpark as deaths due to lightning strikes or falling out of bed (literally). The question this raises is: Does such a low number of casualties warrant an intrusive federal bureaucracy to police it? I think common sense would say “no”. By contrast there are about 4500 motorcycle deaths a year, yet there is no federal agency policing that and no medical requirement. More people die in boating accidents than all of GA, yet there is no medical requirement to pilot a recreational boat. And of course 30,000+ die in automobile accidents with no medical requirement. Anyone can drive a 30,000 pound RV on the highway at 70 mph without a medical. A myriad of other activities cause death with higher numbers than due to aviation medical incapacitation. Of all activites, only the private recreational pilot is singled out for this absurdly out of proportion, costly and unfair treatment.
    One might claim the low numbers of medically related accidents is because the 3rd class medical has filtered out larger numbers that would have caused accidents. However, since the sport pilot exemption was created 10 years ago, there has not been a significant rise in accidents in that group for medical causes (despite the arguably less safe characteristics of LSA aircraft). So, there is no reason to believe the present rate of casualties would be significantly higher without the 3rd class medical. And there are actually some negative health effects of the 3rd class medical. It is a strong disincentive to go to a doctor for treatment of a suspected or real ailment. That is because of fear of creating a paper trail for the FAA to later ground the pilot. Thus, a pilot with medical issues may simply not get treatment so as to not be on record with an ailment.

    Absolute safety vs. reasonable safety: One often hears the phrase “if only one life is saved, it will be worth it”. Of course we know we cannot live by such a notion. If we did, driving cars, using boats, motorcycles and innumerable other activities would be banned. We cannot attain a risk free world, and it is foolish to try. If we did, it would not be a world worth living in, because the restrictions necessary would make life intolerably dull and devoid of freedom. We strive for a reasonable balance between safety and freedom. But in the world of FAA medical certification, it appears absolute safety is the goal, freedom be damned.

    Conclusion: The 3rd class medical should be eliminated. The direct intervention of Congress, as in this bill, is exactly what is needed to correct the abuses of the FAA 3rd class medical. It is overwhelmingly supported by the General Aviation community of pilots, manufacturers and related industries. Also, the funds saved by the FAA (by not pursuing the 3rd class medical) could be better spent on other priorities, which would increase safety. Please pass bill HR 3708.

  6. Jim Cates says

    Hows does this address a medical denial (for treatment of minor anxiety) Ive been flying for 20 years with a single incident or infraction, 1000 hours of proving I know when I am fit to fly. Will this bill remove the stipulation that a drivers license is sufficient UNLESS you have been denied ? I drive a 33000 motorhome on a regular basis….no 3rd class hoop to do that, an a lapse in judgment or attention can wreak lot more havoc them a C150…

  7. John D says

    I’ve had my liscense since 1982 but recently failed my medical due to Diabetes and high blood pressure. On meds for both. Would this exemption allow me to fly again?

  8. Rick P. says

    This is great. I’m currently training for my private pilot certificate. I went to my 3rd class medical earlier this year and the doctor doing it was a urologist. It was a regular physical all good, but when we went over my me history, I had to mention hospital stays and surgeries and I had brain surgery 17 years ago. It was a benign brain tumor. I’ve had some minor issues (nothing that would automatically disqualify me) since but have been prefectly fine but the last 12 years. Yet, he made me get letters from my doctors and made me come back and pay again. And finally approved me but wrote everuthing in his report to the FAA and said that they would either deny me or want more. I started my flight training after he approved me. And surely 3 months later, I got a letter from the FAA asking for ALL medical records (from almost 20 years ago-luckily I had copies) and a bunch of tests (MRI, EEG, field of vision, etc). And obviously I’m paying for them all. Luckily, with insurance, it wasn’t so bad, a little over $1000 total. Now, I’m waiting for them to review everything and then I may still get denied even though I have no phyiscal or cognitive issues. I have been training for 5 months now (once a week), I face no issues, and I’m close to my first solo but I need to wait for my medical to get approved before I can solo.

  9. says

    My problem is being 6’4″ and weighing more than 180 lbs which means what I can fly as a sport pilot means I need to fly alone or solo. In KISS terms being able to fly an airplane that could carry two adults, me plus an average male of 180 lbs means better safety simply due to not flying alone.

  10. Rich R says

    This is a great proposal. I recently had cataract surgery in both eyes so I’m now 20:30. Also had HIFU for my prostate with an excellent letter from my physician so I had no trouble passing my 3rd class with no restrictions, however I really don’t need the aggravation of the physical.. I do fly a Rotorway helicopter. I wonder if would be included in this proposal? Does aircraft cover all types? It looks like aircraft covers all types of airplane, rotorcraft, glider, and balloon.

    • Sarah A says

      Rich, The bill specifically says “Aircraft” so I believe that in legal speak that means fixed wing. My licesnse states it is good for “Aircraft Single Engine Land” and I know for sure that it does not include rotorcraft. It would seem like a good candidate to consider if they reword the bill before it gets final approval and adding IFR would be a good revision as well. For now I would be thankful for any expansion of allowable aircraft that gets us away from the extreme limits that LSA catagory.

      • Rich Rabe says

        Sarah: Read your license carefully. Mine says AIRPLANE SEL and MEL and ROTORCRAFT: HELICOPTER and GLIDER I believe these are all categories of AIRCRAFT.

  11. Steve J says

    This leglistion would allow me to fly without an SI, praise the Lord. My only concern is that we maintain some reporting requirements for alcohol related motor vehicle offenses. Many who make poor choices while driving automobiles will make poor choices while flying.

    • iflyforfreedom says

      yes but many make a mistake driving and don’t make the same flying
      I for one am grounded and would never think of flying while drinking ??
      No excuse for drinking and driving however Ive never or would ever drink and fly
      but I’m on the ground because of a FAA that is so clueless

  12. Ben says

    Maybe this is the ” takeoff roll ” for common sense in Washington ?
    This is the best hope yet for hundreds , if not thousands of pilots across the land.
    It will have a huge impact upon GA , and the spinoff’s will be welcomed by many !

    • Sarah A says


      It will certinly be a big step in keeping the pilots we already have in an active state. Given todays new topic of dismal new pilot starts we need to hold our ground or shrink to the point of seeing all the airports and manufactures dissappear for lack of business. As you pointed out this could be the best hope for the thousends who have grounded themselves or had it done by the FAA yet are still fully quite capable of safe flight. Another of todays new topics was a blog by a pilot who was diagnosed with OSA and jumped through the hoops to get his medical back. He was safe the whole time but when you consider what he was required to do (and pay for) it is a miricle that he even tried.

  13. Randy Rosier says

    I encourage everyone to please contact your local Senators and Congressman and make sure that they support this bill!!! Finally, something that makes sense coming out of Washington. As a sport pilot, having the ability to only take one of my kids for a ride in the plane at a time causes many problems for me. I have 4 kids who all want to fly with dad!!! With the passage of this bill, I could join our local flight club, who have among other aircraft, a Cherokee 6. I could fly my wife and kids to visit in-laws that live 400 miles away instead of driving!!!! This would open up some many more opportunities for people to get involved in aviation and to stay involved!!!

    Now a word to those who might have faith in the 3rd class medical and believe that it is keeping us safe! I take a certain medication that the FAA allows, but with many,many hurdles to jump through and a SI required. My AME advised me that it would cost me on average $3000 a year just to keep my medical!!! So I can fly, but I just have to pay!!! Now how does that make the skies safer. On another note, I am a police officer and make life and death decisions on a daily basis. I have done so for over 15 years and have always made quick, decisive decisions and have helped many people. Yet, according to the FAA, without constant monitoring, I cannot fly an airplane that weight 1321 lbs. In the words of John Stossel, “Give me a break!”

    • B Allen says

      If you make a wrong decision in the line of duty or have a medical problem as a police officer, chances are there will be few if any fatalities. If you make a wrong decision or have a medical problem while flying an aircraft and a crash results, chances are there will be more than few fatalities or serious injuries.

  14. Sarah A says

    This is a good start but now what we have to do is actually follow through and get this enacted into law. Too often we hear of legislation being introduced and give a big cheer only to see it go no where at all. We need regular status reports to identify what or who is holding up the process so we can bring pressure upon them. This will take a lot of pushing to get it through and the alphabit groups need to work togather with the aviation community to make sure this does not end up not getting moved ahead to the presidents desk. They recently worked togather and got a bill passed through to reform the certification standards and I would say that this is even more important because it will put a lot of pilots back into the cockpit.Our rapidly declining pilot base should be a first priority and this is one of the best possible fixes. If I have anything negative to say about the proposal it is that it is too limited by leaving out IFR. If you are fit to fly VFR then why not IFR ???

  15. says

    Everyone who has ever had anything to do with personal aviation should be writing, calling and visiting their Congressman to get this measure passed. Even with the deadlock in Washingtoon, this just might get somewhere. Republicans and Democrats may hate each other, but there is nothing about a common sense approach to VFR light aircraft operation that is polarizing.

    The FAA has a strong bias toward control and will never voluntarily cede any degree of authority over any aspect of general aviation. It will literally take an ‘Act of Congress’ to change that reality. This is that act. FAA will still retain all the control it needs in the biennial flight review that puts a qualified observer in your cockpit to see how you can actually perform.

    We all know a hundred reasons why the third class medical should be dropped. So keep those cards and letters, phone calls and faxes pouring in. Your Member of Congress is there to represent you. Take a stand for general aviation.

  16. Walter Ballauer says

    Since the FAA never does anything faster than a snail in reverse I am shocked that this proposal gives them five(5) years to explain how the third class medical improves aviation safety. They have had this data for years! This bill should be effective immediately upon passage.

    • Sarah A says

      There is no 5 year delay in the bill, it goes into effect immediately. The provision you refer to requires the FAA to gather statistics for the first 5 year and report back to congress what impact, if any, the change has on safety. We already know that it will have none but it sounds good from a political point of view, i.e. review if the law is having a negative impact.

  17. Jimmy Bell says

    This is an idea that is long over due. One aspect of this that I haven’t seen anyone touch on is from the physician’s point of view. As we draw ever closer to the ACA being in place physicians are well aware that they’re about to face a life changing time. All of the people that currently don’t have health insurance and only seek medical attention when something gets out of hand and they show up in an Emergency Department that is forced to treat them are about to have at least basic health insurance. That is likely going to cause primary care physicians to become much busier.

    Under the current rules many physicians seek out the extra jobs of doing FAA physicals, DOT physicals for commercial driver, etc. However they’re going to be less inclined to do so when the find that they’re unable to see their patients in a timely manner. Eliminating the need for a physical for a hobbyist will eliminate at least some of the burden on the physicians and totally eliminate someone not being able to get an appointment with their physician for the exam in a timeframe quick enough to keep their certificate- and that’s an issue we may well be facing in the coming years.

  18. Dick O'Reilly says

    This is an excellent way to jump start aviation. I have yet to read anything about how the third class medical makes flying safer. What I read is that if there was a way to require a first class certificate for good judgment, general aviation would be much safer. There isn’t. But that doesn’t mean the FAA should continue enforcing a medical requirement that does nothing to ensure safer flying. Leave it to me and my doctor to decide if I’m fit to fly. In fact, we both agree that I’m quite fit. I’ve learned to play by the rules and no longer fly IFR in a Comanche 250. But I have had fun in an experimental light sport (read fat ultralight) and now with a light sport eligible antique taildragger. However, I know that the safest flying I could do these days would be in an older (affordable) Cessna 172. And I might do that if the conditions imposed by the FAA didn’t make my annual inspection 2-3 times more expensive than the airplane’s annual.

  19. Lee Ensminger says

    Now we’re talking! This bill is SO much better than the petition AOPA/EAA submitted. I will be happy to write letters to my representatives supporting this bill, and I hope AOPA/EAA will do whatever they can to help this pass. FWIW, I hold a current 3rd class medical and have no reason to think I won’t be able to renew for the next 10-15 years. I also know a number of people who can fly airplanes better than I ever will who have been forced to stop because of the archaic 3rd class medical requirement.

    • Rich says

      Anything under 6000 pounds.
      Let’s not ask questions we don’t want the answer to.
      Obviously 6000 lbs includes plenty of retracts.

      The bill is only 3 pages long. Let’s keep it that way.

      • Sarah A says

        As Rich says there is nothing to exclude retractable gear therfore it would be allowed. The same goes for Night flight which I have seen comments on. The bill keeps the language simple in those regards so any aircraft that meets the specified limitations will be allowed. My only comment would be to specifically allow the FAA to ease the bills restrictions at it’s discretion just to make sure we do not end up with the situation that it requires another act of congress to get further relief (i.e. add IFR prevlidges or extend the weight, altitude, speed limitations). A problem with ELT’s is they were mandated by law so the FAA could not change requirements after the fact.

      • Greg W says

        Exactly, don’t ask too many questions about this. Think in terms of the CAA regs. or the FAA up through the middle ’80’s. If something is not specifically prohibited it is permitted, not the other way around. The FAR’s are still like that, the problem is people, including the FSDO staff, interpret them often as, “if it is not specifically permitted then it is prohibited” the rules do not actually state that.

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