The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has passed S. 571, better known as the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, bringing third-class medical reform one step closer to reality.
The committee passed the measure on an overwhelming bipartisan vote on Dec. 9. The bill will now go to the full Senate, where it has strong bipartisan support with 70 cosponsors, hopefully for a vote before the holiday recess. The House, where there are 152 co-sponsors on the bill, will also have to pass the measure before it can go to the President to be signed into law.
“As we’ve often said, working through the legislative route is not an easy or quick task, but we are very pleased that this progress has been made and the bill now goes to the full Senate,” said Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Chairman/CEO Jack J. Pelton. “It took long hours of work by EAA and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and efforts from Senators James Inhofe and Joe Manchin, their staffs, and the other co-sponsors of the bill to get to that point. While all legislation goes through twists and turns, the key point is that pilots will be able to avoid the complexity and expense that is inherent in the current third-class medical certification process. We will continue our work to push this legislation forward, with the continuing support of EAA members who have made their voices heard to their elected representatives.”
“This is great news for the pilot community because it brings us closer than ever to meaningful third class medical reform,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “Bringing the legislation this far has required persistence and compromise in order to get the very best possible deal for pilots while winning the support needed to keep medical reform on the table. Today’s action signals that lawmakers are continuing to move legislation that will help hundreds of thousands of pilots fly safely while saving them millions of dollars and countless hours now wasted on the medical certification process. This legislation moves the responsibility for managing many health issues out of the FAA’s bureaucracy and puts it in the hands of pilots where it belongs. The Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 frees pilots to work with their personal physicians to manage their own health, wellness, and fitness to fly.”
Under the measure, most pilots who have held a valid third-class medical, either regular or special issuance, within 10 years of the legislation’s enactment would never need to get another FAA medical exam. The rule would apply to pilots flying VFR or IFR in aircraft weighing up to 6,000 pounds and carrying up to five passengers at altitudes below 18,000 feet and speeds up to 250 knots.
For pilots whose medical certificate lapsed more than 10 years before the legislation is enacted and those who have never received a medical certificate, a one-time medical certification will be required. After a pilot has been medically certified once, either through the regular or special-issuance processes, he or she will also be able to fly indefinitely without needing to go through the FAA medical certification process again.
Pilots who develop certain medical conditions, including a small list of specific cardiac, mental health, or neurological conditions, will have to get a special issuance medical one time only.
After pilots have met these requirements, they will need to visit their personal physician once every four years for a medical exam. Pilots will need to fill out a form and provide it to the doctor performing the exam. The form includes a short questionnaire for pilots as well as a list of items the doctor must include in the examination. Following the exam, both the physician and the pilot must sign the form. The pilot must make a note of the visit and keep the signed form in his or her logbook.
Following the exam, both the physician and the pilot must sign the checklist. The pilot must make a note of the visit and keep the signed checklist in his or her logbook. While the form will include some of the items that are now part of the third-class medical exam, it will not require the doctor to make a “pass/fail” judgment and no information about the exam needs to be provided to the FAA unless it is specifically requested.
“A pilot, along with that person’s individual doctor, who knows the patient best, now can have direct freedom and responsibility for best managing health decisions,” Pelton said. “The Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 frees pilots to work with their personal physicians to manage their own health, wellness, and fitness to fly.”
In addition to the medical exam, pilots will be required to take a free online education course on aeromedical factors every two years. The course will be designed to increase awareness and understanding of medical factors that can affect a pilot’s fitness to fly.
Under the bill, the FAA will have a year from the date the legislation becomes law to produce a final rule reflecting the legislation’s provisions. If the final rule is not ready within one year of the bill’s enactment, pilots will be allowed to fly under the guidelines set out in the legislation without facing FAA enforcement action.
The legislation also directs the FAA to streamline the special issuance medical process and identify additional medical conditions that AMEs can issue medical certificates for without requiring the pilot to go through the special issuance medical process.
“Is it a perfect bill with everything that we could have wanted?,” Peyton said. “Of course not. Legislation rarely is. It is, however, broad relief and reform for the vast majority of individuals who want to fly for fun and personal transportation. It is the furthest advancement ever made for this essential aeromedical reform.”