Third class medical reform: A vision realized

By now you have probably heard that the House and Senate finally passed an FAA Reauthorization Bill with an important attachment, the “Medical certification of certain small aircraft pilots” – commonly known as Third Class Medical Reform. On July 15th, the requisite signature on the bill was appended by the president, and HR 636, the “FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016,” became law. 

This was a heavy lift that began with a modest request for exemption from medical certification requirements for certain aviation operations back in March, 2012.  That initiative included a request for day VFR operations in aircraft less than 180 HP with one passenger.  Even though the FAA drafted and sent an NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) to the Department of Transportation, there was no further government response. We finally said “enough” and began to engage our friends in the House and Senate who were part of the GA Coalition to seek legislative relief from a system that is overly regulatory, brings a questionable level of safety to the national airspace system for the price of admission, and takes the appropriate management of healthcare out of the hands of the pilots and their treating physicians. 

The legislation gives the FAA 180 days to create new regulations that conform to the legislation. Unfortunately, if the FAA does not issue these regulations within 180 days, there is no immediate consequence. However, under the new law, if the FAA does not issue regulations within one year from July 15, 2016, the date the President signed the bill into law, then the FAA cannot take enforcement action against a pilot for not holding a valid third class medical certificate so long as the pilot makes a good faith effort to comply with the legislation. With the passage of the new medical certification reform, we will look to the FAA to follow the intent of the law as they move forward with drafting new regulations. 

It was the intent of AOPA and congress to improve the medical process for pilots who fly recreationally, particularly to reduce the bureaucratic red tape and the associated costs of maintaining a medical certificate. One of the key requirements to assist pilots with making safe decisions about flying is the free online medical education course that will be “required reading” by all participants every two years.  The course provides valuable information about human physiology, medical conditions, and medications that will enhance pilots’ understanding about “self-assessment” in the new regulatory environment.  Safety in aviation is everyone’s goal and AOPA believes that a better informed pilot is a safer pilot.  The inclusion of the medical education course requirement, we believe, will enhance the decision making process which in turn provides an additional margin of safety. 

As the FAA begins its work to craft the language of the regulations we will be operating under within the next year, it will become even more important for all pilots to be conscientious about the responsibilities these new privileges will require.  Adhering to the provisions of current regulations, including FAR 61.53, the regulation that prohibits operations during medical deficiency, will be crucial for all of us to prove to the naysayers that GA pilots can safely and responsibly operate in the national airspace system.  If you participate in AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services, our medical certification staff is available to review your medical records so you can make an informed decision about exercising your privileges under current and upcoming new regulations.   

You can count on AOPA to continue to represent the interests of general aviation, and we will do our best to ensure that the new regulations are consistent with the “spirit and intent” of the language the lawmakers negotiated in HR 636.  Our thanks to all of you who supported AOPA during this battle. It’s a great feeling to know we have done something that will positively influence General Aviation for decades!  There is more to do, of course, and AOPA will be working with the FAA as the rulemaking process continues to ensure that the new regulations reflect the intent of the legislative language. 

Not an AOPA Pilot Protection Services Participant? Learn more about the program here.  Ready to enroll? You may do so here.

Portrait of Gary Crump, AOPA's director of medical certification with a Cessna 182 Skylane at the National Aviation Community Center.
Frederick, MD USA
Gary Crump
Gary is the Director of AOPA’s Pilot Information Center Medical Certification Section and has spent the last 32 years assisting AOPA members. He is also a former Operating Room Technician, Professional Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician, and has been a pilot since 1973.

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