Going Direct: Important Update On John King’s Battle With FAA

3/8/17 UPDATE: We’re delighted to share the news that King Schools’ co-founder John King has received his FAA medical certificate from the FAA. In an email to Plane & Pilot, King wrote that getting his ticket after a years-long battle was a surprise—of the most pleasant variety, we’re certain. The legendary aviation educator got his approved medical in the mail from the FAA earlier this week after having made one last appeal, though he was’t sure if that that was the key to the FAA’s changing course on its decision. We’re guessing he’ll celebrate with his business partner, wife and crewmate Martha King by going flying. Congrats to the Kings on this great news.

To read the background on the story, see our original piece below, which we hope might have gotten the attention of the FAA... Stranger things have happened.


The guy lost his medical. It’s no big deal, right? Nope. Here’s why it matters to you.

Last week, when John King came out publicly with his fight to win back his lost medical certificate, I knew all of us were in for a long battle. That’s right, all of us.

For those of you pilots who never owned a VCR or used King Schools courses on your computer to study for an FAA exam, John King is the other half of John and Martha King, who founded King Schools in 1975 and who made a name for themselves in aviation education by putting out a series of test prep courses on every imaginable aviation subject that the FAA cares about. Their shtick is hilarious, and while goofy and silly, it does the job. I’ve gotten a couple of perfect scores on my FAA tests thank to the Kings. John and Martha are incredibly experienced pilots, jet-rated, owner-flown types with just about every possible FAA certificate in their wallets

And as a disclaimer, I’ve known John King for a long time. He and Martha are good friends. I’ve known about John’s medical troubles for some time, but have never said anything about them to anyone. But now that they’re public, let me tell you why his fight matters.

There are opinions galore on this subject, one of the most common being that John King is an old guy (for the record, he’s not really that old), so losing his medical might suck, but these things happen. Move on with your life, Mr. King. Right?

Wrong. First of all, John has a good medical argument. He had a single seizure years ago and has not had a recurrence. The chances of him having another one are quite low. The chances of any of us over-55 people having a heart attack are a little better, but in the same ballpark. This kind of medical risk assessment is not much of a science. While you can look at the data and make a call based on what it tells you, that is not what the FAA is doing. Instead, it’s found itself in a very familiar position: backed into a corner and not budging. As Geico says in its advertising spots, if you’re in the FAA, you deny the medical as many times as your decision gets appealed. It’s what you do.

I hope for John King’s sake he wins, but I’m not optimistic. I am incredibly grateful to him, however, for stepping into the ring, though. It’s costing him a bundle and there’s no guarantee of victory. And for every pilot who says that John has lost and should accept it, I say... really? I’ve flown with John on many occasions, in everything from a two-place helicopter to a Mach .80 jet, and let me tell you, flying matters to him just about as much as breathing does. Fight on, John.

The real solution, which I’ll be discussing at length in an upcoming editorial in Plane & Pilot, is to start from scratch with the FAA’s aeromedical division. The system is broken beyond all repair and its conclusions aren’t based on the latest medical data or, in many cases, on any data at all. I wish that John were dealing with the FAA of the 21st Century, but he isn’t. I’d place it smack dab in the middle of the 20th. But maybe his fight will help those with the power to change things to see just how little good our current medical certification system does and how great are its costs, both in terms of dollars that pilots spend fighting unfair decision and in lost happiness, on the part of the pilots it unfairly grounds.

If you want more commentary on all things aviation, go to our Going Direct blog archive.

22 thoughts on “Going Direct: Important Update On John King’s Battle With FAA

  1. As you said, ‘It is costing him a bundle’ –

    He probably doesn’t need our help, maybe doesn’t even want it, but I think someone should start a ‘Support John’ fund, and we’ll show the FAA how much support there is out there!!

  2. I have had the honor of listening to John and Martha at KOSH. Their talk was both amusing and brutally honest about their flying experiences. No ego’s there! My wife and I are great admirers of the King’s.

  3. As a retired emergency physician, I can say that people have seizure like episodes for many reasons and not all of them indicate a ongoing seizure disorder. From what I have read, Mr. King has had a very through neurological evaluation with no findings suggesting his condition is or will be recurrent. A reasonable period of medical observation is appropriate and if Mr. King remains seizure free his certificate should be restored. Unfortunately he is dealing with the FAA (yes the same agency that turned their backs on GA at Santa Monica), so his chances for fairness are slim.
    Mr. King, please keep up the fight and maybe the FAA will finally open their eyes and be reasonable.

  4. I, for one, would be interested in seeing federal legislation introduced to correct these types of arbitrary decisions and requiring fact and data based medical information that provides conclusive proof before the FAA is allowed to “pull” anybody’s medical certificate. Perhaps your magazine and the AOPA/EAA would be interested in spearheading such an effort. I would willingly join the effort.

  5. The FAA aeromedical criteria and procedures need to be napalmed and recreated by doctors (not bureaucrats and most definitely not the ALPA). So many of us are boxed out of the air for reasons that no physician or psychologist is on board with – and many who have been fortunate enough to fly for years unacosted end up like King and Hoover – who have the unfortunate honor of being made an example out of by the FAA.

    I hope that there is more that can be done to make things right – sooner than later.

  6. Fight on, John! We’ve all known for a long time that the FAA is about ten steps behind technology, medical issues and when it comes to responsiveness, they’re so out of touch with reality that their obsolescence is a tasteless fashion statement.

  7. I too was denied a medical on appeal last week with stipulation of a 5 year waiting period. This was in spite of what I believe was convincing evidence of my airworthiness today.
    I am now searching for an attorney who would represent me at a appeal to the NTSB board. I dont care if my chances for a reversal are minuscule, I wont sit by and do nothing.
    If anyone has a attorney recommendation I would appreciate your forwarding a name and contact info to me.

  8. The FAA is Arbitrary & Capricious; interested only in saying No to risk as no bureaucrat ever wants to have to defend a decision that resulted in an adverse outcome – no matter how insignificant the odds.

    That’s why we fought for real 3rd Class medical reform – a Drivers License Medical – to take the decision out of the the hands of “The Knights Who Say NOOOO”

    Unfortunately what we got was half baked – nobody of a certain age who wants to learn to fly will ever be able to get a 3rd Class Medical, while those with a 10 year old medical are fixed for life.

  9. As others have discussed, this is another case similar to Bob Hoover’s many years ago. Nothing has changed since. The FAA Aeromedical Division remains broken. The sad thing about it, as discussed in your article, is that this could happen to any of us. The unfortunate thing is that we do not share the same celebrity status as these two fine aviators, and would not have the same grassroots support they experienced.

  10. 1. Remember how they treated Bob Hoover!
    2. My uncle, a recovering alcoholic, was encouraged to renew his license, but the FAA was so backward in their analysis (he had been dry for years) that he gave up and quit trying.
    A WWII vet who bought an AT-6 after the war, learned to fly and went all over with nary an incident–farm field landings to hard surfaces. But he couldn’t overcome that bureaucracy!
    “Just d__n!

  11. To Chuck Basil, I am a flying attorney, have done administrative appeals, and you should know that they are not inexpensive. It is the sort of thing one really needs to consider all aspects, including the possibility (in this case, probability) of not being successful.

  12. Two and a half years of misery and many thousands of dollars did Warren Silberman’s Aeromedical Section cost my family and I.
    I was a 45 year old active-duty Army officer when I had a light-headed, swooning while I had the flu and a simultaneous flu injection. Later, I was stupid enough to admit it, and that began a monumental struggle to prove I would never have “unexplained loss of consciousness” again. A letter from my family physician was disregarded, the findings of two AMCs were ignored, the reports of medical specialists were nothing until some unknowable level of their repeat tests were accumulated, and the passage of a fuzzy/disregarded amount of time was all par for the course. The Aeromedical Section never even deigned to notify me when they relented.
    The FAA does not give a wink about an individual or reality; instead they want an irrefutable mountain of proof to protect the bureaucracy before any “waiver” will be granted. And they have no concern how much it costs to build that mountain.
    Hoping for some reality turned me bitter in the first few years; later, I became an avowed fighter of bureaucracies.
    Unfortunately, the whole, disgusting experience confirmed so many of the criticisms I had heard of the FAA, and had never previously taken as serious. I had not imagined such things could really happen.

  13. Seems if nothing needed in way of medical OK for LSA, which are like GA in most ways, FAA is somewhat “on this hand OK but on that hand NOT”… Wonder what their logic and rational is for that bit of logic?

  14. John King represents many, many pilots affected by the FAA that are powerless to do anything about the decision. I’m grateful that the Kings, as they often do, are using their celebrity, humor and grace to improve GA for everyone by bringing light to expose this absurd and antiquated processs.

  15. I met John and Martha at an AOPA summit in Tampa in 09. They were most gracious for both picture taking and light conversation. I to studied for my written using thier study materials. Like the saying goes, FAA mission statement- We are not happy until you are not happy. Sad but true.

  16. My wife and I met the Kings wen they sponsored the great cross country air race in 1995. They were the first to greet when we finished in last place in our Cessna 140. The nicest and biggest promoters GA. Good luck John . We need more people like you and Martha.

  17. I have the utmost respect for John’s aviation knowledge and abilities as a pilot. But no matter how good of a pilot you are, you can’t fly the plane when you are having a seizure. There is very good data available to estimate the probability of recurrent seizure for specific time periods after an initial seizure. The FAA uses that medical data to determine the required observation period before granting another medical certificate. Commercial truck drivers have a minimum 4 year wait after a seizure before they can get their CDL back. This is based on very strong medical evidence. An unexplained seizure is more worrisome than one from a known cause, because you probably haven’t fixed whatever caused the seizure in the first place. So 4 years might not be enough. I love John and have all the respect in the world for him. But I wouldn’t fly with him right now.

  18. FAA – VA… SSDD… You “ROCK” John! – America NEEDS this sort of bureaucratic re-vector… it is past time to evolve from agenda incentivized bureaucrats!

  19. It’s hard for me to begin the discussion. The FAA system is so broken on so many levels. It has been and will continue in this fashion until some effective change is not only implemented, but enforced as well. The Hoover example on emergency revocations shows us that even though laws are passed they are not enforced.

    When it comes to medical conditions I would say this, there have been several airline pilots that have died while holding 1st class medicals, both on and off the job. If the aeromedical system is so effective, then how come the trouble was not caught during their previous physical? Another point is there was no loss of life or property damage that I know of.

    Which brings me to fat pilots. This whole sleep apnea thing is the rage now. The logical progression of thought might go like this. If a pilot is fat, determined by neck size etc., he might have sleep apnea. If he has sleep apnea then he might not get a good nights sleep. If he is tired, he might crash the airplane and kill everybody. Maybe but, I can’t think of any airline crash that had a fat pilot behind the wheel, they are usually fighter pilot types that get up and jog every morning.

    So my opinion is this, how does one bureaucrat distinguish himself from a previous one? He makes more rules of course and when you are talking about a system like the human body that is unchanged since the FAA was formed a few years ago, and it is existing in a world of rapidly advancing medical break throughs, how could you help but experience disparity with an outfit like the FAA involved?

    I’m not saying that there should be no restrictions on medical conditions but it sounds like John has been caught by the system. Its kinda like getting caught in a TRF, they don’t make anything safer, you just get in trouble and the beat goes on.

    This idea of how they are making us safe with these outdated regulations and policies is like my copilot trying to impress me with his flying skills by programming the FMS. That ain’t flyin and they ain’t savin no lives. It does, “create,” jobs however.

  20. I’ve been fighting for a medical every year for fifteen years, usually taking 5-9 months to get a 1 year SI that expires a few months later. I spent more time and money getting a medical then I do flying an I own my own plane. Most people would give up, one heart test alone is $9,200.00. I never had a heart attack and my blood pressure is good. Dealing with the FAA is authoritative abuse. John King is lucky.

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