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Medical reform could be added to highway bill

By Elizabeth A. Tennyson, AOPA

An amendment to the Senate highway bill now under consideration that includes third class medical reform language has been filed by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.). The amendment, which mirrors language in the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, was filed by the two senators who are longtime general aviation advocates. Manchin is also a pilot and AOPA member.

“We very much want to see third class medical reform enacted by any means possible, and we appreciate the leadership of Senators Manchin and Boozman in bringing this issue forward and working to have it added to the highway bill,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “Both these senators understand just how important this issue is to the general aviation community and have demonstrated that they’re willing to act to give pilots relief from the outdated and cumbersome third class medical process.”

The next step will be for the Senate to determine which amendments are allowed to come up for a vote. While it’s impossible to say whether or not the Manchin-Boozman amendment will make it to the floor in one form or another, the language it contains, which matches that in the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 (PBR2), does have strong bipartisan support with nearly half the Senate signing on to that legislation as cosponsors.

It’s unclear whether agreement on a highway bill can be reached before July 31 when funding authority expires and the House begins its five-week August recess. And while the House has passed a highway bill that would extend the program until December, the Senate bill looks to authorize the program for as much as six years.

Meanwhile, support for third-class medical reform continues to grow. A July 16 AOPA call-to-action asking members to urge their elected officials to co-sponsor the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, which includes third-class medical reform as well as protections for pilots facing an FAA enforcement action, resulted in nearly 70,000 contacts. Within a few days 21 more senators had added their names to the bipartisan list of cosponsors, which now includes 47 senators and 117 members of the House.

“This is a complex process and we can’t predict the outcome, but the more support we can demonstrate for third-class medical reform the better,” said Baker. “Even if you’ve contacted your senators about PBR2, call or email them again today and ask them to support the Manchin-Boozman amendment. Time is short and every voice counts!”

A complete list of co-sponsors is available on AOPA’s website and members who wish to contact their legislators can do so through the association’s action page. Please note that you will need to change the letter to express support for the Manchin-Boozman amendment.

“We are determined to get third class medical reform, and lawmakers have heard our message loud and clear,” said Baker. “But this doesn’t mean we can or will rest. We’ll keep working for medical reform every day, and through every possible channel, until we get it done.”

AOPA’s pursuit of third class medical reform to expand on the successful sport pilot medical standard, which has safely allowed some pilots to fly without a third class medical certificate for more than a decade, is nothing new. In March 2012, AOPA and EAA jointly filed a petition with the FAA to expand the standard to more pilots and more types of aircraft.

The 2014 General Aviation Pilot Protection Act gained solid support, but time ran out in the 113th Congress before the bill could be brought to a vote. In the meantime, the FAA did develop a proposed rule to address needed changes to the third class medical process. The draft rule has been held up in the Department of Transportation review process for nearly a year with no sign of movement.

The start of the 114th Congress in January brought new legislation in the form of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, S. 571, introduced by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Manchin. This bill has been put in amendment form (Manchin-Boozman) with the intent to attach it to the highway bill currently being considered by the Congress.

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