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.

5 thoughts on “Going Direct: 3rd Class Medical Reform Set To Become Law

  1. While good for those who currently have a Third Class Medical this law discriminates against those who don’t have a current 3rd Class Medical. Evidence has shown that the third class medical does not provide any safety benefits when compared to pilots with a driver’s license medical. The accident rate caused by medical problems is negligible, whether in light sport aircraft or general aviation. The zero accident mentality of the FAA is a delusion that disenfranchises hundred of thousands of pilots.

    We do, however, allow decrepit senior citizens to drive 3 feet from us at 70 mph on crowded interstates. The public would never tolerate requiring a 3rd class medical for driving and yet driving is inherently more dangerous (due to traffic density) than flying safely (where an accident endangers only you & your passenger, rarely others).

    The future of general aviation lies in bringing back rusty pilots, who have let their third class medical expire or recruiting baby boomers who have longed dreamed of flying and now have the time and money to do so. Unfortunately many of these candidates, merely due to their age, will have medical issues which make getting a third class medical difficult, but which in no way would disqualify them from flying. I think the proposed law, which requires that all new and rusty pilots obtain a new third class medical, will discourage most and cause them to give up as a pilot faces a Hobson’s Choice of losing his opportunity to fly with a sport license, if he is denied a 3rd Class Medical.

    The proposed law would certify a senior pilot as medically fit forever just because he once had a 3rd class medical and was smart enough to keep renewing it, yet will deny that 3rd class medical to a new pilot who has the same medical issues as the above senior pilot.

    There is no reason why a private pilot with a driver’s license medical should not be permitted to fly a 6,000 lb aircraft in all conditions for which he is rated and current to do so. That would be true third class medical reform.

  2. I agree with most of that, especially the fact that new pilots (We were hoping, myself included, but the way this panned out, probably not anymore….sigh…even my very mild mental illness can easily deny me this…) are still on the hook for the 3rd Class most of us won’t, or can’t, get. I can’t help but think that if they just lobbied for greater expansion of Sport Pilot, that things would have turned out better. Instead they took a route that pissed off AOPA (WHY??) and, of course, doctors when all that we really wanted out of all of this was to fly real FAA certified planes instead of the over priced, non certified (ASTM is NOT the same, not by a long shot…) almost unattainable -by-normal-folk Sport planes. I guess it’s time for me at least to finally give up, that 3rd Class medical isn’t going anywhere and I’ll never be a real pilot….guess I just have to accept that fact and move on. Sad, very sad.

  3. Mr. Goyer, I see you’ve found yourself a new home …congratulations and the best of luck to you.

    However, and no offence, but you still appear to be going out of your way to be ‘Politically Correct’ in your writings and assessment of the state of our ‘Industry’. “The new rules are a lot more complicated than any of us would have wished for” …is the understatement of the century concerning this ‘sham’ legislation which is … as a very intelligent and astute gentleman as yourself knows, essentially little more than the ‘passing-of-the-buck’, which will in reality do very little for the many of us who’ve waited so anxiously for it to come to fruition. Nor I fear will it do the slightest thing to reverse the final nails being driven, concerning the death of ‘General Aviation’ as you and I have known her.

    Unless I read AOPA’s Q&A incorrectly, we are essentially ‘substituting’ an FAA designated Medical Examiner with a ‘civilian’ Physician. In our hyper-litigious society (especially in the area of ‘Medical Malpractice’) after the 1st. lawsuit is filed …it’ll all be over. As always, it really won’t matter on the technicalities of the law in this instance (as is the case for most ‘lawsuits’) In our country, it’s always, unfortunately, been about one thing …money. Even in the most frivolous of lawsuits, and more often even the ‘threat’ of them, the costs are usually outrageous ….and too many Physicians have already had their fill.

    I sincerely hope …wish, to be proved wrong …but probably should know better.

    But there’s still just one more ‘minor’ ‘reality’, that so many folks, including yourself it seems, just don’t (or won’t?) seem to ‘get’.

    ….I say this as a (hopeless) Aviation romantic, and (retired) Professional Pilot, humbled by a wide range of experience from Skydiving to Airline flying, and a 25+ year member of both AOPA & EAA:

    Let’s have a look at the two ‘Grass-Roots’ ‘Non-Profit’ organizations, that are supposed to be representing the (now just about extinct) ‘Average Joe’ ‘GENERAL Aviation’ pilot that had the most hands in initiating, pushing and following through on this so-called “most significant legislative victory for general aviation in decades.”

    AOPA and EAA

    …currently headed by (appointed, NOT member voted) ex-Corporate CEO’s still drawing (absurd) CEO level wages from NON-PROFIT ‘Associations’ Average-Joe members, ‘flown’ around in mega-expensive, Turbine (Corporate) aircraft doing OUR? ‘Business’ in expensive, lush resorts, provided and paid for by said membership, who are shamelessly deluged by the Association and its ‘affiliates’ with weekly solicitations for ‘goods & services’, and have in fact, ironically, become one of the many active and willing participants in the demise of ‘General Aviation’ …and unfortunately, part of the problem, certainly NOT the solution.

    We’re told all this excess is justified …in fact required, so that we can have people “experienced” with the ways of Washington, (Corporate) lobbying and (Big) Business in order to have (OUR?) voices heard and issues addressed. (sound familiar?) When the perverted reality is that it is just this type of ‘Mind-Set’ this (USA?) ‘Corporate Mentality” (pursuit of ‘profit’ solely for its own sake, while providing the least amount of service that can be gotten away with) that has been the primary contributor to the Graveyard Spiral ‘General Aviation’ has been unable to recover from.

    Mr. Peltons last gig was with Cessna Aircraft Company, who like Piper, and others in the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s not only supported, but actually CREATED’ a market for ‘General Aviation’ by providing aircraft, not only for the affluent, but airplanes that the ‘Average-Joe’, albeit with a little sacrifice, could actually afford, now gives us the $400,000+ venerable C172. A basic, single engine, 4 place, fixed gear, fixed prop, simple low HP ‘Light Airplane’. One whose basic airframe has been around for over half a century and whose R & D, tooling and most all other initial development costs have long since been paid for many times over, decades ago. Essentially a (very) old airframe design with a few tweaks, and upgraded to some modern avionics (which also SHOULD cost substantially less than their steam gauge, analog counterparts)

    Cessna, Piper, Beechcraft etc. decided, long ago, that Corporate (Turbine) aircraft is where the ‘monies at’ (and extremely lucrative amount of money at that) And the LSA (industry) has, it seems, quickly succumbed to the disease …behold the Cub Crafters Carbon Cub; …an even simpler TWO place, basic, fixed gear, fixed prop, low HP ‘LIGHT SPORT’ airplane” with a basic avionics package for the bargain price of just under 200K!

    This is what has been/is still primarily responsible for the demise of ‘General Aviation’ …as those of us who numbered among what was generally perceived to make up its largest segment during the 60’s, 70’s and into the early 90’s have been so fortunate to have been a part of.

    We must all come to grips with the fact that ‘General Aviation’ is now solely ‘Business Aviation’. NOT the little guys flying around for personal or ‘recreational’ purposes in Cessnas, Cherokees and/or their modern day equivalents. Sadly, the only ones that can afford to do that are the ‘affluent’. We’re rapidly destroying ‘General Aviation’ …making it solely a ‘Rich-Mans Sport’.

    ‘General Aviation’ (as we’ve known her until now) is all but dead in this country, just as it’s been in the rest of the world, where it never really existed to begin with …having been replaced with ‘Business Aviation’

    Repeat: General Aviation is now ‘Business Aviation’ …Long Live The King!

    Even IF this “most significant legislative victory for general aviation in decades” actually lived up to its rhetoric …the sad fact is it would probably only have kept the current, dwindling, ageing members of the ‘General Aviation’ Pilot population on life support, thus delaying the inevitable end of the ‘Spiral’ a decade or two longer.

    Please …it is time for some ‘honesty’ —- (source: GAMA Stats)

    …. In 1979/80, the peak of GA aircraft production, almost 20,000 piston airplanes rolled off the assembly lines with a US population of about 200 million. The average price of an airplane was 2-3 times that of a (the average) new car. …In 2013, with a population of just over 300 million people, about 500 pistons are produced/delivered each year …and the average prices are almost 2-3 times the (median) price of a house.

    And while I’m not so naive (or young and foolish) or unappreciative to not understand that it was (is?) the engine of capitalism that made ‘GENERAL’ Aviation attainable to most of the masses in the first place, and ‘Business Aviation’ was indeed a (if not ‘The’) very large and essential part of ‘General Aviation’ which fueled that engine …unfortunately, it has been becoming (painfully) obvious to me (and I suspect more than just a ‘vocal minority’ of our ‘community’) that AOPA, EAA, Flying (magazine) and all who’ve been a welcomed part of my life during my almost 40 year love affair with Aviation, have morphed into what indeed it seems ‘Corporate America’ has equally mutated into …’Business’ entities whose SOLE purpose appears to be the pursuit of profit …SOLELY for its own sake, and the unlimited enrichment of their upper echelons.”

    The final, irrefutable evidence is not that our illustrious ‘leaders’ of AOPA & EAA are congratulating themselves on the fact that they essentially failed at securing what was actually requested and proposed by (their?) membership, and really all that was ‘needed’: an extension of the LSA rules to cover 4-6 seat light aircraft , VFR for primarily ‘recreational’ purposes …in fairness, not really their fault as anyone can, no matter what their background, ‘status’ or financial where-with-all can fail in that ‘Fiasco’ we call the US Government …

    …NO …they insult our intelligence (as well as their own) with ‘SPIN’ worthy of the best of what we’ve all been forced to endure from the Corporate-Congressional-Industrial-Complex over the last few decades …by trying to con us into believing how “great this will be” …what a difference it will make, when the 99% (no pun intended) of us who exist in the ‘real world’ know all too well to the contrary! It’s now all too evident that ‘They’ in essence have become and are no different than ‘Them’ …but how devastatingly unfortunate for all of us that they (ALPA & EAA) are, for the purposes of representation, the only game(s) in town.

    Apologies for the (long) rant folks. I’m a 40 years experienced in Airline, Air-taxi, ‘Corporate’, Flight School and ‘Recreational’ (General) Aviation, currently grounded (due to …you guessed it …’expense’ and regulation) aircraft owner.

    So yea …you would be reasonable to conclude that the above was just the ‘ranting & raving’ of a ‘disgruntled’, disappointed, defeated sad SOB

    …or, if you’re truly intellectually honest with yourselves….

    Thanks for puttin’ up with me

  4. I love the way all of what I read is true the third class med was a tool to make money but every action has a reaction members of eaa and aopa will stop joining and the CEO / president of them have made enough cash close down the programs stop the the feed of cash if feel there needs to be a class action law suit

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