by Dr. Bill Blank, M.D.
Published in Midwest Flyer – Oct/Nov 2016
As many of you know, on July 15, 2016, President Obama signed into law the “Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2.” That was the culmination of a long process. In 2004, the FAA authorized pilots to fly Light Sport Aircraft using a driver’s license as a medical. There had been a movement to extend the types of aircraft that could be flown with a driver’s license medical up to aircraft such as the Cessna 172. Congress became involved in this process and made modifications to the original request. When the process was completed, we did not get a driver’s license medical to fly such aircraft. Instead, we got what is called a “comprehensive medical exam,” which can be done by any state-licensed physician. We did, however, obtain the right to fly larger and more complex aircraft than the original proposal requested.
To start out, the FAA has 180 days from the signing of the bill to issue and/or revise the regulations in compliance with the new law. If the regulations have not been issued within one year, the law takes effect anyway. Under the new legislation, an airman wishing to fly without a third class medical will be required to have a valid driver’s license. That driver’s license must be unrestricted. Glasses are acceptable. If your driver’s license restricts you from driving at night, you could not use your driver’s license to meet the new requirement. In addition, within the past 10 years, you must have passed an FAA medical – that could be any class and even may have been via special issuance. You cannot have had your last medical denied or you cannot have withdrawn your application.
To remain compliant, every 24 months, you need to complete an online Internet medical education course. The FAA will of course have a record of the course completion and you will be required to print out your completion certificate and retain it in the event the FAA ever requests it.
If you have any medical condition that may impact your ability to fly, you must be under the care and treatment of a physician. Every 48 months, you must undergo a comprehensive medical exam from a state-licensed physician. You will be able to print off the online form to take to your physician, and it will include a checklist of questions that are essentially questions 3-13 and 16-19 from FAA Form 8500-8, which you now complete via Med-X-Press. You and your physician will discuss your answers to these questions. In addition, he will perform a medical exam similar to the one currently performed by your Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). When the physician completes the exam, he or she will discuss and sign the following statement:
“I certify that I discussed all items on this checklist with the individual during my examination, discussed any medications the individual is taking that could interfere with their ability to safely operate an aircraft or motor vehicle, and performed an examination that included all of the items on this checklist. I certify that I am not aware of any medical condition that, as presently treated, could interfere with the individual’s ability to safely operate an aircraft.”
You will be required to keep this form so that it can be presented if ever requested.
Certain medical conditions require a one-time special issuance prior to exercising your right to fly without a third class medical. Those are certain mental health disorders, neurological disorders, and cardiovascular conditions, such as myocardial infarction, coronary heart disease requiring treatment, valve replacement, and heart transplants. There are no waiting requirements for obtaining these special issuances.
When you have met these requirements, you will be permitted to fly aircraft under visual or instrument flight rules, not above 18,000 feet, at indicated speeds not to exceed 250 knots, with not more than five passengers, and not for compensation or hire. From this you can see that some pilots will still need a third class medical and the third class medical will still exist.
While this legislation turned out differently from what was originally requested, I believe that it is a big step forward. From my point of view, one of the major benefits is the ability to not be required to deal with the FAA aeromedical process, which frequently is time consuming and overkill. If you are interested, I recommend that you read the entire section of legislation. Google S.571 and go to Section 2307, Medical Certification of Certain Small Aircraft Pilots. I think you will find it interesting.
EDITOR’S NOTE: William A. Blank is a physician in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and has been an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) since 1978, and a Senior AME since 1985. Blank is a retired Ophthalmologist, but still gives some of the ophthalmology lectures at AME renewal seminars. Flying-wise, Blank holds an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate and has 5300 hours. He is a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII), and has given over 1200 hours of aerobatic instruction. In addition, Blank was an airshow performer through the 2014 season, and held a Statement of Aerobatic Competency (SAC) since 1987.