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Going Direct: 3rd Class Medical Reform Set To Become Law

With the Senate’s overwhelming passage of the FAA Reauthorization bill—the House passed it last week—the temporary funding measure goes to the president’s desk for his signature. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law by July 15.

While the bill is a broad funding measure, of greatest interest to us personal transportation pilots is the provision that calls for a reform to 3rd Class Medical Certificate rules.

The new rules are a lot more complicated than any of us would have wished for, a result of lawmakers trying to get meaningful reform over the finish line while still somehow satisfying the wishes of other special interests, notably, airline pilots’ and physicians’ lobbies, who for reasons unclear and obvious are against 3rd Class Medical reform. The FAA has a year to enact the rule.

What it means for you, once the bill gets signed into law:

  • The exemption is only good for private transportation. Commercial flying on the medical-lite is off-limits.
  • Every pilot who uses the third-class exemption will need to get an FAA medical at one time and to have passed their previous exam. So, no flunking your last FAA physical and sliding into the exemption.
  • If you’re just getting into flying, you need to start the process by getting your certification through the FAA’s established process before switching to the “driver’s license” exemption.
  • You’ll need to see a doctor every couple of years to have them weigh in on your fitness to fly, though the results don’t go to the FAA, unless they later want them. (We predict just about every pilot will go to a doctor they’ve never used before for this process.)
  • You’ll need to take online tests on a regular basis to make sure you’re familiar with the process and to learn about health and flying, a provision we’re likely to support pending further details.
  • You can fly airplanes up to 6,000 pounds.
  • Your speed limit will be 250 knots indicated.
  • You can fly up to 18,000 feet, though we’re unclear on whether that includes the 18,000-foot altitude or stops a foot short of it.
  • You can fly yourself and then as many as five passengers.

The rule doesn’t give us pilots everything we wanted—for instance, why should we have to go to a doctor at all? And it won’t grandfather in everyone who’s a safe bet to keep flying, even if they have failed a medical.

Still, the rule goes a long way, and member organizations are thrilled, some of them calling it the biggest dose of good regulatory news we’ve had in a quarter century.

It’s hard to argue with that assessment.

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