By Joseph E. (Jeb) Burnside
At some point back in the dark ages of aviation, it was decided every person serving as pilot in command of an airplane must have passed a routine physical examination. That's because, in part, few standards existed for determining a person's relative health, or his or her visual acuity or hearing ability.
Much has changed since then, including lengthier life expectancies and more-uniform driver's license testing designed to ensure motor vehicle operators are physically capable of seeing and hearing what's going on around them. At the same time, the physical demands on pilots have been greatly reduced since aviation's supposed "Golden Age" of the 1920s and '30s. So, why do otherwise healthy pilots flying relatively simple aircraft in non-commercial operations need to obtain an FAA medical certificate on a regular basis? Why can't a state-issued driver's license suffice as evidence the holder is healthy enough too serve as pilot in command?
Those are the basic questions underlying a joint effort of EAA and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). The two organizations earlier this year submitted a petition to the FAA asking the agency to exempt certain types of aircraft operations from the requirement that the pilot hold a current medical certificate. The petition would have the effect of expanding the existing rules applying to FAA-certificated sport pilots-who are not required to hold a medical while flying a light-sport aircraft-to pilots operating larger but equally simple airplanes. It also would create an online aeromedical training course that each pilot must study. An online exam would be used to test your retention of the course material.
For example, the joint petition, if granted, would allow a pilot lacking a current third-class or better medical certificate to operate a single-engine aircraft with 180 hp or less, four seats or fewer, and fixed gear. The flight must occur in VFR weather during the daytime and would be limited to carrying one passenger. Of course, it can't be for hire or in furtherance of a business. In other words, any pilot holding at least a private certificate would not be required to have a medical certificate when flying for recreational or personal transportation reasons.
The two organizations submitted their original petition on March 20, 2012. By late June, more than 10,000 comments had been submitted but EAA and AOPA in early July asked the FAA to extend the petition's formal 20-day deadline. The FAA agreed, and more than 14,000 comments have been submitted so far. The new deadline for commenting is September 14.
"This initiative will preserve the freedom to fly by reducing a significant hurdle in the lives of many pilots and entrants into general aviation while maintaining or enhancing safety," said EAA President/CEO Rod Hightower. "It would also greatly increase the number of aircraft available for pilots flying strictly for recreation and encourage pilots to continue to fly in aircraft in which they are already familiar."
Pilots and others wishing to register their views on the EAA/AOPA petition have until September 14 to do so. During EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2012, attendees visiting the Welcome Center can obtain assistance in submitting formal comments.
Here's the direct link to the "Submit a Comment" page (FAA Document FAA-2012-0350-0001):
http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FAA-2012-0350-0001, then click on the Comment button.
More background on the EAA/AOPA exemption request can be found in the Guide to the Medical Exemption Request and replies to frequently asked questions.