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Going Direct: I Might Have Taken My Last FAA Medical Exam

A new rule means the outdated FAA 3rd Class Medical could be a thing of the past for many of us.

With the coming adoption (no jinx) of the FAA Third Class medical reform bill, I might never have to go through an FAA exam again. And I couldn’t be happier. Here’s how the timetable might work.

Here’s a little background for context. The twin proposals in the House and Senate include the 3rd Class Medical Reform language, and it’s so popular in both chambers that it’s unlikely it will be stripped out in either one. The rule, which applies to those pilots who haven’t had their last medical application denied, will almost certainly allow people who fly privately in light planes (6,000 pounds or less) and who don’t need to go beyond 18,000 feet to fly VFR or IFR pretty much with as many passengers as a sub-6,000-pound plane can carry.

The rule will ask us to check in with our regular non-FAA approved docs infrequently, and that’s about it. Otherwise, if you’re healthy enough to drive yourself to the airport, you’re healthy enough to go flying, which is pretty much how it works for a lot people already, including those with the Sport Pilot certificate. As with any legislation, there are a lot of details in this medical reform bill, and the differences between the House and Senate version will have to be ironed out before it gets past and sent on to President Obama for his signature. Because the medical reform language is part of the FAA Reauthorization Bill, which we all need to keep the FAA funded while a permanent funding is worked out, there’s about zero chance the bill won’t pass and that the President won’t sign it.

The language requires the FAA to get its act in gear and come up with a workable plan for the whole thing within one year. Since my medical expires at the end of June (my 2nd Class gets me an additional year, because I spent slightly more for that piece of paper 13 months ago), I could theoretically slide right into Private Pilot flying privileges without stopping by my doc’s before the end of next June. As much as I love my guy—he’s a skilled and thoughtful physician, a real pilot and just an all-around terrific person—thanks, Mark—I won’t miss the hoops we all need to jump through as part of the process, and despite being in really good overall health, I’ve had to jump through a few of them.

Then again, when the FAA is involved, getting their side of the work done in the year’s time that Congress has given the agency is anything but a foregone conclusion. We beseech Administrator Huerta, another good guy with a really tough job, to get his employees in Oklahoma City to make it happen. Personally, I’ve got $120 (the cost of my exam if I need to take it again next year) riding on it. And I’m just one of hundreds of thousands of pilots who will breathe a sigh of relief, without a stethoscope on their back.

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