The nuclear BMI proposal


Public service life can be so unfair. You make one minor suggestion in your role as FAA Air Surgeon, and the aviation world beats a path to your office door waving pitchforks and blogs. In the interest of journalistic fairness, I’ll review the absolute brilliance of FAA Air Surgeon Fred Tipton’s recent proposal to ever so slightly modify a minor policy.

First, let the record show that I have been unable to find one documented example of Dr. Tipton actually performing surgery while in the air, but we’ll leave that for another exposé and turn now to the much-maligned BMI proposal.

Why All The BMI Fuss?

BMI (Central Illinois Regional Airport at Bloomington-Normal) is a nice airport. Why Dr. T wishes to ban any pilot over age 40 — and eventually age 30 — from landing there I couldn’t fathom, until I dug a little deeper and discovered that he not only wishes to ban flight at KBMI but at every other airport in the country and possibly the world. This made more sense.

Turns out I misinterpreted his medical thrust. Apparently BMI means Body Mass Index, a cheat-sheet calculation for pre-med students to determine if a patient taking up two waiting room chairs is obese or merely chubby in an everyday modern way. The higher the BMI number the lower the available fuel load.

Excess body weight, as anyone who’s watched TV in the last 40 years knows, can lead to serious health problems or becoming governor of New Jersey.

Likewise a neck circumference over 17 inches rings the too-unhealthy-to-fly-but-not-too-big-to-be-a-Navy-SEAL alarm on the Dr. T Index (DTI).

Combining the two factors will lead to achieving the FAA’s double-edged goal of controlling pilot and air traffic controller populations. Being a pilot (since 1973), and having been a controller (1979-1997), I know that some in the FAA would be happier without me anywhere near aviation.

Dr. T’s law will require any pilot with a BMI above 40 to undergo prohibitively expensive sleep apnea evaluation at an FAA medical re-education camp in Norman, Oklahoma. That’s fine, one might think, although never express aloud. I’m nowhere near BMI 40.

But Dr. T is no fool and proposes that once the 40ers are culled from the EAA chapter’s pancake breakfast line, he’ll turn the BMI glare on the over-30 crowd, and that gets painfully close to many hangars. Eventually, only Somali pirates will have qualifying BMIs on the DTI, but most won’t get through TSA’s alien flight training screen, so little threat there.

In no time Dr. T. will have gutted the pilot population. Mission almost accomplished.

But here comes the bonus: Once the pilots are gone there won’t be any need for air traffic controllers (managers, yes; let’s not be silly), so the FAA could finally clean out that nest. Except controllers have a union —NATCA, a force to be respected. And the best way to decimate that crowd is to apply the pilot BMI rules to controllers as well. But not simultaneously!

Divide and Conquer

Dr. T knows that if he pushed too far, too fast, and tried to begin his purge with a BMI-30 value applied to both pilots and ATC, he’d overplay his hand. The threatened elements would join forces to stop him before he could cash his first retirement check and become a DC consultant. So he started slow.

First get the 40s — pilots only — and then the 30 BMIers, who might not have noticed the disappearance of their 40 BMI friends. Then, once aircraft were all pilotless, the FBOs shuttered and FSDO folks thinking it’s gotten awfully quiet beyond the concertina wire — it’d be time to spring the final phase and cleanse the ATC house.

Without pilots or controllers — projected date mid-2017 — the FAA will finally be the model government agency. Its budget will shrink just enough to keep a blind Congress happy, while the cubicles at 800 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, D.C., will hum with the satisfaction of upper level management awarding itself exceptional performance appraisals, and Dr. T will no doubt be in line for a Medal of Freedom From Flight.

But success doesn’t rest on its laurels. There’s another trick that Dr. T could be holding in reserve as he strives to keep the skies safe and free of humans.

It’s Not Just Nuts, It’s Berries, Too!

Recent medical studies report that people who eat seven servings of nuts per week (BeerNuts not included) live, on average, 20% longer than nutless dieters. Those are vital data to FAA futurists, not simply because 80% of non-nut-consuming pilots and controllers will die prematurely but, as Dr. T has do doubt realized, if healthy benefits are extended to 20% of the pilot/controller population by eating nuts, then perhaps all pilot/controllers should be required to prove nut consumption, either thorough a verifiable log or routine NSA mealtime surveillance. Whatever the method: No nuts, you no fly.

But — and this is the genius few of us anticipated — once Dr. T teases out the 20% of pilot/controllers living solely on a diet of nuts and berries, the FAA Air Urologist, Dr. Whizzbang, will unleash her secret study showing that nuts, berries and other seemingly healthy foods cause kidney stones.


So, you get one of those oxalate frags ripping through an FAA-approved ureter and no more flying for you. There goes the standing 20% who thought they were immune with their skinny BMIs.

Rest Easy, The FAA Usually Fails

Okay, there is no Dr. Whizzbang, no secret FAA reeducation camps, but you can see that, left to its own imagination, the FAA will always do whatever it can to limit flight. If it could regulate the birds from the trees it would.

The real question is: Now that the FAA has distracted us with Dr. T’s proposed surgical pilot/controller removal, what are the folks in DC really planning?

Don’t declare victory if Dr. T is forced to back away from the nuclear BMI option. There’s always another battle looming over the horizon, and it takes real flying pilots to see that far.


Paul Berge, CFII, is a former FAA air traffic controller (1979-97) and author of The Private Pilot Beginner’s Manual (for Sport Pilots, Too) and Bootleg Skies. He teaches in his 1946 Aeronca Champ and doesn’t need no stinkin’ medical certificate.


  1. DC says

    Its great how anyone with some muscle tone are considered overweight according to the BMI. I would doubt the intelligence of government bureaucracy to make a distinction however.

  2. unclelar says

    It’s another big government reach completely out of touch with reality. I am nowhere near the BMI limit and have never been so. It’s just mind boggling to think that this so called Doctor thinks this is so important. But then again the whole medical qualification is just a sometimes costly joke. I worked for the government for over 37 years and I know how this kind of thing gets unleashed on the public. It’s just very bad management. I spent my career as a manager and sometimes had to squash silly things like this. And even though it is hard to believe, big government overreaches can be given the no-go at higher levels. This is just not a battle worth fighting for the FAA. But then they are the FAA with little or no adult management and somehow forever stuck in the Land of Oz. It’s sad that this kind of thing makes us lose our trust in government. But you have to remember that the FAA and many other government agencies couldn’t care less what the public thinks of them.

  3. Jerry Plante says

    So ok, the BMI-40 crowd knows they won’t pass the medical and all become sport pilots. Now we have morbidly obese pilots flying around in LSAs only capable of having half fuel, falling asleep at the stick/yoke/stoke and flying until they run out of gas. That’s much safer.

    • Richard Warner says

      It won’t happen Jerry. They haven’t been falling asleep in the other planes they have been flying, so why would they do it in an LSA. Maybe its the CO emitted by those LSA engines.

  4. Brad says

    Dr.T seems like he wants only military pilots flying.. His little add/ADHD meds shafted my son from getting a 3rd class. Funny how airfirce pilots take go pills which are add meds, yet my son can’t fly a 152 solo.

  5. Ricard Warner says

    Great article. I also hope the legislation to do away with the 3rd class physical passes. Write your Representative and ask them to co-sponsor or at least support it. I was wondering if this statement would preclude female pilots from aviating. “Whatever the method: No nuts, you no fly.” I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it. :)

  6. says

    Great article! We can only hope that the new bill in congress passes, allowing pilots of up to 6-seat aircraft to avoid the third-class medical and use a driver’s license. Of course, that bill is only good for VFR flight; IFR flight will still be part of this mess. That seems counter-intuitive, since it’s the “under-40 BMI” crowd that likes to be seen by the masses with their cool airplane, and most people would prefer to keep the “over 40 BMI” crowd in IMC…

    Nice job Paul!

  7. says

    Had me laughing out loud. But then I thought about it a bit more and started to tear up a bit. My BMI is 26 (overweight) but then I wrestled, currewntly work out, and have big bones

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