Guest Editorial By John Christensen
I recently attended my 50th high school reunion. I had a wonderful time reminiscing with classmates. As one would expect, the rather large crowd quickly organized itself into small groups, according to interests, past and present. I found myself embedded in a pod of old coot pilots.
After the hangar stories, lies and exaggerations were dutifully processed, the conversation topic switched to the Class 3 medical and our collective assortment of various health issues keeping us grounded. Many colleagues are aircraft owners and pilots. Tickets ran the gambit from ATP to private. All had one common interest: To somehow legally get back into the air, as seniors.
My story was simple. On my 40th birthday I had bypass surgery. No heart attack, just some odd feelings leading to a doctor exam, leading to an angiogram, leading to surgery. Two years following the surgery I had a couple of strokes, just for good measure. It turned out that the strokes were small bleeds in my left cerebellar, caused by improper dosage of the blood thinner I was taking.
Years pass, I recuperate. After consulting my cardiologist, I decide to try again for my Class 3. A big mistake! I went to the FAA medical examiner, filled out the form 8500-8 and passed all medical tests. The doctor issued my medical certificate and I went home a happy camper. That lasted three days.
That’s when I received a letter and phone call from the FAA demanding I immediately return my medical certificate. I’m sure my doctor was scolded as well.
Interestingly, the emergency recall had nothing to do with my actual health. Rather, the FAA had a laundry list of questions regarding medicines and a sizable demand for copies of my medical records. The oddest part of that request was a demand for 10-year-old bypass records. After submitting these records — and more — I finally gave up. This story is typical of my classmates.
Conversation quickly morphed into a discussion of the sport pilot certificate. All observed that while they supported the sport pilot ticket in principal, the privileges just do not satisfy the desire of a 1,000 hour grounded aircraft-owning pilot.
During this brainstorming session we mutually conceptualized parameters for a possible new class of medical.
Imagine the creation of a Class 3B Restricted medical certificate. It would be issued by the FAA as a substitute for the standard Class 3 medical,to a licensed private pilot encountering a medical ineligibility. This new medical would allow the private pilot to continue to act as PIC with no restriction in aircraft type or operating privileges if accompanied by a second licensed pilot possessing either a valid medical, whether it is Class 1, Class 2, Class 3 or Class 3B medical.
Why do this? One look at Part 61.23 presents a dazzling array of allowable conditions, prohibitions and limitations for various medical certificates. This could be simplified with the creation of a Class 3B certificate.
This should be easy to enact and ultimately be a much easier transition for us “elderly” pilots. Furthermore, the statistical likelihood of two pilots becoming simultaneously disabled is vastly less than the risk of a single pilot medical failure. Importantly, pilot redundancy is already fully recognized by the FAA and has been practice for decades.
I expect pilot compliance would be high. Most pilots have other pilots as friends and fly together anyway. Some of us own single-place aircraft, but that is a much easier issue to manage than having no medical.
I do not believe a driver’s license will ever be authorized as a private pilot medical. This use is already established in the sport pilot realm and there is just too much uncertainty in the issuance of drivers licenses to meet the FAA requirement for private pilot. My 86-year-old father-in-law received a renewal from the DMV. He was bedridden with Alzheimer’s.
Personally, I do not wish further restrictions on what, when or where I can fly; rather I would happily comply with the requirements of the Class 3B medical.
I guess there is a downside, though. I’m sure the number of “lost medical, must sell” classified ads would drop.
John Christensen is retired Navy submariner, retired electronics engineer and retired (read grounded) private pilot. His flying career began with a glider ride at Calistoga in 1976. It ended abruptly ten years later following a quad bypass operation. Since then, he satisfies his aviation yearnings with radio controlled warbird models, aircraft home-building (EAA member) and generally pestering his pilot friends for “passenger” time in the right seat. An AOPA member since 1978, He lives in Manteca, Calif., with his wife, Ann and a gaggle of RC planes.