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President Barack Obama on July 15 signed third class medical reforms into law as part of an FAA authorization extension passed by the House and Senate days earlier. With the president’s signature, which came just hours before the FAA’s authorization was set to expire at midnight, medical reforms became law and the clock started ticking on an FAA mandate to translate that law into regulations.

Pilots who follow the necessary steps can fly in aircraft weighing up to 6,000 lbs. gross takeoff weight, with up to six seats and carrying up to five passengers. They can fly day or night, VFR or IFR, at speeds up to 250 kts and at altitudes up to 18,000 feet msl.

“We did it together! Medical reforms are now the law, and that’s a big win for general aviation,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “It has taken years of commitment and hard work to make these reforms a reality. AOPA and EAA started the current reform effort back in 2012 when we petitioned the FAA for a medical exemption but the terms of that petition were much more limited than what pilots will get under the new reform law. This is something our entire community can get excited about.”

Although the extension only keeps the FAA running through September 2017, the medical reforms are permanent, and the FAA now has one year to develop and enact rules that align with the reforms. Pilots will not be allowed to fly under the reforms until the FAA has completed its rulemaking or the one-year time limit has elapsed, whichever comes first. The FAA has not yet said when it will begin the rulemaking process or what form that process will take.

“The reforms are now law and that means we’re in the home stretch when it comes to getting more pilots flying without compelling them to repeatedly go through the expensive and burdensome medical certification process,” said Baker. “But there’s more work to do to ensure that the law is translated into regulations that make sense and work in the real world.”

“We have fought long and hard for medical reforms and thanks to the support of GA supporters in both the House and Senate, those reforms are now the law. We are very pleased that pilots will soon reap the benefits, but the devil is always in the details, and some of those details will be worked out in the rulemaking process,” said Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs. “That’s why our team will be closely monitoring the FAA’s next steps and providing input and the pilots’ perspective at every opportunity.”

Although the reform legislation included considerable detail about what the new rules should look like, it did not actually create new rules for pilots to follow. That task falls to the FAA, which has up to one year to develop and enact rules that meet the requirements of the law. Once the FAA has enacted the new rules, or one year has passed from the date the reforms became law, many pilots will be able to fly without ever needing to take another FAA medical exam.

The FAA has not yet said when it will start the rulemaking process or how that process will unfold, but AOPA will be engaged at every step along the way to make sure the interests of our members are represented.

During the coming months, AOPA also will begin the process of educating doctors, insurers, and pilots about the reforms and what they mean. We will help doctors understand and feel comfortable with their roles and responsibilities in performing medical exams for pilots. Insurance companies will need to understand how the new rules will affect pilots and how they compare to existing medical standards, like the one used by sport pilots. And pilots, too, will need to dig into the rules and understand how they relate to their individual situations.


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