Now that the elation of finally getting third class medical reform approved has abated a bit, new concerns have been raised by pilots who worry their doctors won’t sign off on an FAA form that says they are fit to fly.
“Most doctors won’t want the liability,” more than one person has commented at GeneralAviationNews.com.
It’s also something that GA advocates are hearing, according to Jack Pelton, chairman and CEO of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).
“That is the number one issue that I’m getting feedback on,” he said during a recent interview. “I was in South Carolina at the Triple Tree Fly-In and then I was in Knoxville, Tennessee, for a chapter anniversary and I had town hall meetings in both places, and that was the number one item that came up at both of those.”
Pilots are not only concerned about whether a doctor will sign off saying they are fit to fly, but they are also concerned that things will change between now and when the FAA releases the final rules.
Pelton can put that second concern to rest right now. The medical reform that was passed this summer by Congress is law and the FAA can’t change it, he said.
“If the FAA does nothing, it gets implemented by default,” he noted.
Called the most significant legislative victory for general aviation in decades, the medical reform was included in a bill that temporarily extends the FAA authorization. The FAA has up to a year from the date the president signed the legislation — July 15, 2016 — to enact the new regulations. If it fails to meet that deadline, the legislation automatically goes into effect.
Under the reforms, pilots who have held a valid medical certificate any time in the decade prior to July 15, 2016, may not need to take another FAA medical exam. The 10-year period applies to both regular and special issuance medicals.
Pilots whose most recent medical certificate was revoked, suspended, withdrawn, or denied will need to obtain a new medical certificate before they can operate under the reforms.
After meeting the initial requirements to fly under the reforms, pilots will need to visit a state-licensed physician — not an Aviation Medical Examiner — at least once every four years and provide an FAA-developed checklist of issues to be discussed during the visit.
Both you and your physician will need to sign the checklist saying that you discussed the items on it. You will then need to make a note of the visit and include the checklist in your logbook.
You do not need to report the outcome of the visit or file any paperwork with the FAA unless you are specifically requested to do so.
You also must take a free online course on aeromedical factors every two years, which will be offered through the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Air Safety Institute.
Pilots who have never held an FAA medical certificate will need to go through the medical certification process once. Even pilots who have a medical condition that requires a special issuance medical certificate will only have to go through the process once in most cases.
Pilots flying under the new rules will be allowed to operate aircraft that weigh up to 6,000 pounds, carry up to five passengers, plus the pilot in command, fly at altitudes below 18,000 feet, and at speeds of up to 250 knots. Pilots, if appropriately rated, can fly VFR or IFR in qualified aircraft.
The new rules include twin-engine aircraft, as long as the plane meets the definition of a covered aircraft.
Want to fly a plane that carries more than five passengers or weighs more than 6,000 pounds?
You’ll need to keep going through the third class medical process. That means visiting an AME for your medical exam and renewing your medical certificate as needed.
As the FAA works to enact the new reforms, EAA and other GA advocates say they will work closely with the agency, especially in the creation of the document that doctors will be asked to sign off on.
“While that’s a very legitimate concern, I think it’s no different than the process we go through today with our AMEs as to how various AMEs interpret whether you meet the criteria to get a medical,” Pelton said. “We’re going to have some doctors that this won’t be an issue and they’ll take your $65 or whatever the number is and you’ll be on your way no matter what, and other ones are going to say, ‘Sorry, I’m just not comfortable with making that kind of determination,’ and unfortunately we’re going to be faced with that going forward. I think that’s the nature of the profession.”
“That being said, I think the real proof will be in what does the document look like and what are the intended or unintended liabilities associated with that,” he continued. “How will a medical professional view what are they signing off on? And it’s something we are going to have to work with the FAA and the medical community, to get that done appropriately.
He points out the aviation medical exam is not much different than the regular physical many of us undergo every year. When physicians conduct a routine physical and include that information in your records, they are not implying that when you leave the office, you will be fine.
“You hear about people who get a physical and they are out exercising the next day and drop dead and there’s no liability for a doctor in doing that,” Pelton noted.
Another concern raised by many pilots at the recent Town Halls is that there are quite a number of AMEs retiring. That makes it difficult for pilots who still need a first or second class medical exam.
For those who choose to fly without a medical, the new reforms will “open up a lot more physicians” who will be able to give the required exam, Pelton noted.