The FAA will not take enforcement action against pilots or flight engineers who fly with medical certificates that expire between March 31, 2020, and June 30, 2020.
“COVID-19 is placing a severe burden on the U.S. healthcare system,” FAA officials note. “Requiring pilots to undergo in-person medical examinations would further stress the healthcare system, and would increase the risk of transmitting the virus through personal contact between the doctor and the applicant.”
The news was hailed by officials with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, who note it is a good start to other requests they’ve made to provide relief from looming deadlines for a range of time-sensitive tasks, including pilot certification, proficiency, and knowledge test expirations.
AOPA leadership noted that suspending enforcement is the fastest path to relief, given the time required to change existing regulations or create new regulations that would have to be further amended once the pandemic is over.
“The FAA is meeting the moment by finding the quickest and most effective path to address an urgent need, and we deeply appreciate the creative thinking and recognition that keeping general aviation operational serves a greater good,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “We will continue to work with our partners in government and industry to rise to the demands of this extraordinary time.”
The decision on enforcement of medical certification deadlines sets the stage for similar actions addressing related concerns that Baker raised in a March 17 letter to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, including the looming expiration of pilot certification examinations based on regulatory timelines that predate the pandemic, and completion of knowledge tests administered by FAA provider PSI, which has shut down its testing centers as part of a collective effort to slow the spread of the disease. Some third-party operators remain open, so pilots should call ahead if they have tests scheduled, AOPA officials added.
Need more answers?
AOPA’s Pilot Information Center staff are standing by to answer questions that are likely to arise in light of the FAA policy decision, based on each member’s individual circumstances. Members can reach AOPA staff online, or by phone at 800-USA-AOPA (872-2672) Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time.
AOPA officials also noted the association is continuously updating its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on general aviation.
Other Steps the FAA Has Taken to Address COVID-19’s Impact on the Aviation Industry
Air Traffic Control Facilities
The FAA is temporarily closing and thoroughly cleaning air traffic control facilities where employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Every air traffic control facility in the country has a contingency plan to keep air traffic moving safely when events affect normal operations. In some cases, this means transferring duties to adjacent facilities.
Air Carrier Training Exemptions
The FAA granted training exemptions to scheduled and on-demand air carriers due to the unprecedented circumstances associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The exemptions give operators grace periods for completing certain training and qualification requirements, and give crewmembers relief from having to wear protective breathing equipment or oxygen masks in training, checking, or evaluation. The exemptions can be viewed at Regulations.gov. The docket numbers are FAA-2020-0291; FAA-2020-0292; FAA-2020-0307; and FAA-2020-0308.
FAA Construction Projects
The FAA has temporarily stopped most construction projects at agency facilities to ensure the safety of employees, contractors, and the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency is continuing projects that are in critical phases and would affect operations or safety if not completed. For now, the FAA is delaying the start of new projects. Design work on future projects will continue.
Airport Construction Projects
The FAA is working with airports across the country to determine the impacts COVID-19 is having on current and planned airport construction. Airport sponsors and the FAA will review all executed Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants and determine which projects are safety critical, phase of the project, estimated length of project delay, additional costs if the project is delayed, and impacts to overall airport or system operations. The FAA will identify how it may be able prioritize safety-critical projects through funding or process adjustments. The FAA and airport sponsors will work collaboratively to do whatever is reasonably possible to avoid delays in project construction and reduce the delay time when possible. Once a project is ready for construction, the airport owner is responsible for completing construction.
Airport Improvement Program
The FAA is working to ensure there are no delays awarding Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds for 2020 because of COVID-19. Employees with the FAA’s Office of Airports are in constant contact with airport sponsors to award all appropriated AIP funds by Sept. 30, 2020, FAA officials noted.
The FAA has worked to automate the AIP process, which enables employees to work remotely and continue to process AIP grants under the current circumstances, officials added.
Aviation Maintenance Technician Schools
The FAA is working with staff and students at Aviation Maintenance Technician Schools (AMTS) to allow greater flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. The FAA’s guidance to AMTS allows deviations from FAA policy on class schedules, electronic delivery of assignments, and the maximum number of absences. Each AMTS school is affected differently, and the FAA is addressing any deviation from policy or regulation on a case-by-case basis.