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Expect third class medical reform in 2015

By Janice Woods, General Aviation News

At the last Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) regional fly-in of the year, pilots clamored to sign a giant petition calling for reform of the third class medical.

It’s a scene that’s been played out at all the AOPA events throughout the year, association officials say, reporting that more than 10,000 signatures have been garnered since the petition first appeared at SUN ’n FUN. The panel that was at McKinnon St. Simons Island Airport (KSSI) in Georgia was the 10th panel.

“It’s been really popular,” said Steve Hedges, AOPA’s spokesman.

He added the association will keep bringing the panels to fly-ins and airshows “until the third class medical reform goes through.”

The quest for third class medical reform was on the top of the agenda for AOPA President Mark Baker’s Pilot Town Hall meeting, which closed out the Nov. 8 fly-in.

When Baker took over as president of the association in August 2013, a petition for the third class medical reform, submitted by AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association in March 2012, had been sitting on a desk somewhere in the FAA offices with virtually no movement. The petition asks the FAA to reduce the requirements for a third-class medical certificate, allowing certain types of flying with a valid driver’s license, much like the Sport Pilot license.

“As a business guy, I get impatient,” Baker said. “I don’t mind yes, I don’t mind no — I don’t even mind heck no — but I really can’t stand when people ignore us. That was just unacceptable.”

Unable to get any traction at the FAA, GA’s advocacy groups went to Congress and found support there. The Pilot Protection Act was first introduced in the House of Representatives, with a companion bill in the Senate introduced earlier this year. The House bill now has 170 co-sponsors and Baker reported that there’s a push on to get that number up to 218 — or more — so the legislation can be pushed through to a final vote.

“Meanwhile, the FAA doesn’t want Congress to tell them what to do, so they started moving on the petition,” he reported.

It also didn’t hurt that the pilot community made 21,700 calls, emails and letters to elected officials in support of the change, he noted.

The FAA has worked up its own revision to the third class medical, which is now at the Department of Transportation for review.

“It’s supposed to move out of there any day now,” Baker said. “Then it will be on to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for its review.”

OMB has 30 days to issue its report, so AOPA officials are hopeful the FAA plan will become public in January.

“We don’t know what exactly is in the rule,” Baker reported to the crowd at KSSI. “But here is what I think: We will get something done in 2015. Some things will change for the better as far as third class medical reform.

While there are many who oppose the reform — including the American Medical Association — Baker noted that there is no evidence that the third-class medical enhances safety.

“The third-class medical is just a one-hour guarantee of a pilot’s health,” he said. “There are no incapacitation issues and there is no math from anywhere to show that it improves safety.”

Meanwhile, AOPA officials urge pilots to continue signing the giant petitions at fly-ins and airshows until medical reform is reality.

“I’ve pointed out to Michael Whitaker, who is the FAA Deputy Administrator, that it will soon be his wallpaper in Washington, D.C.”

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