When we announced the FAA’s decision to swear off enforcement of medical certificates that are coming up due during April, the question we had was apparently the same one our readers had. Why stop there? There are so many deadlines for pilots and operators of aircraft that without some relief, or at least a promise not to enforce the rules, general aviation could soon come to a standstill.
Well, the FAA was apparently thinking the same thing. Last week it rolled out a new FAA coronavirus site that puts all coronavirus related exemptions and other guidance on one page, where stakeholders (we are they) can get information on everything from guidance on allowing overflow airliners to park at their airports to details about the mega-bailout CARES act.
This includes the ruling that “extends the validity” of certain pilot and flight engineer medical certificates. The FAA says that it will “extend the validity” For those that expire between March 31, 2020, and June 30, 2020. The full text of that guidance is here.
We think the takeaway here is that the FAA is exercising unprecedented flexibility during what it admits is a time of extraordinary challenge. As part of its commentary on it effectively extending medical certificates, it wrote, “It is not in the public interest at this time to maintain the requirement of an FAA medical examination, which is a nonemergency medical service, in order for pilots and flight engineers with expiring medical certificates to obtain new medical certificates. This is because of the burden that COVID-19 places on the U.S. healthcare system, and because these aviation medical examinations increase the risk of transmission of the virus through personal contact between the physician and the applicant for an airman medical certificate.”
It’s hard to find silver linings in this time of the pandemic, but we hope that during this time of challenge the FAA will start to be more flexible and come to better understand that FAA medical certificates are less important to overall safety than the agency has ever previously admitted.