WASHINGTON, D.C. — It started two-and-a-half years ago and there is still no clear end in sight. It’s another example of apparent government slow — or no — action.
In March 2012, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) petitioned the FAA to reduce the requirements for a third-class medical certificate and permit certain types of flying with a valid automobile drivers’ license, much like the Sport Pilot license.
Estimates by AOPA and EAA officials indicate the proposed change would affect about 39,000 pilots. Some doctors have opposed the change, but the majority of comments favored it.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said at this year’s AirVenture in Oshkosh that the agency had received more than 16,000 comments about the petition.
AOPA officials note the association’s members are impatient and consider the elimination of the medical to be a priority issue. Association officials note that a large number of messages received at its headquarters are from members wondering where the issue stands. They also note that their members are getting impatient.
Congress is getting impatient as well. In late August, 32 members of the House General Aviation Caucus sent a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx urging him to expedite the review process and permit the FAA to proceed with its next step of issuing the proposal for public comment. Early in September 11 Senators, who were all co-sponsors of a bill to reform the medical process, also asked the Department of Transportation to speed up the process.
So where does the proposed rule change now? It is someplace in the maze of government. Officially it is at the Department of Transportation. Questions to DOT officials are met with no response, telling us to contact the FAA. FAA officials comment that “it is now under executive review at the DOT.”
The rule change must also be examined by the Office of Management and Budget.
When the DOT and OMB both approve the proposal — if they do — it will be returned to the FAA, which will then put it out for public comment. The length of time for comments will probably be several months.
After these comments are considered, the FAA may or may not issue a rule change.
This long process leaves many with concern about what the outcome will be. Does delay signal a favorable or unfavorable decision, or is it just government’s way of handling some subjects?
EAA’s Dick Knapinski says that association remains optimistic. Until there is a final decision, he says, “we always look for the bright side to make it easier for pilots to continue to fly safely.”
AOPA officials also are optimistic. The association’s Rob Hackman says they are encouraged by the support the proposal is getting from Congress, the aviation industry and individual pilots.
This has been a long process, he acknowledges. “Our objective now is to get across the finish line,” he said.
FAA Administrator Huerta has indicated he is in favor of the change. So, if all goes well, there could be a change coming.
But don’t cancel your next appointment for a physical exam.