by Mark R. Baker
President & CEO, Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association
Something good is happening in Congress right now. (I know some of you may find that hard to believe, but it’s true.)
A few weeks back, Rep. Todd Rokita and Rep. Sam Graves–both active pilots, AOPA members, and members of the House GA Caucus–introduced legislation that could get thousands of pilots back in the air and simplify life for thousands more.
It’s called the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act (GAPPA), and, put simply, it would vastly expand use of the driver’s license medical standard.
Our friends in Congress took this step after we asked for help. Almost two years ago, AOPA and EAA filed a petition asking the FAA to make more pilots eligible to fly with a driver’s license instead of a third-class medical. It’s the same standard Sport Pilots have been using for nearly a decade, and we know that it’s safe and effective. We even recommended that pilots be required to take recurrent online training so they’d be able to effectively determine their fitness to fly, further improving safety. When the petition was opened to public comment, 16,000 comments were filed–the vast majority of them positive.
But the FAA hasn’t taken action on the petition. We’ve asked them repeatedly to move forward, and I’ve discussed this personally with the FAA Administrator. But we’re still waiting. Now GAPPA will go much further, allowing pilots to use the driver’s license medical standard for noncommercial VFR flights in aircraft weighing up to 6,000 pounds with no more than six seats. That includes virtually all single-engine airplanes with six or fewer seats as well as some twins. Pilots would be allowed to carry up to five passengers, fly at altitudes below 14,000 feet MSL and fly no faster than 250 knots. The Act would also require the FAA to report on the safety consequences of the new rule after five years.
If this legislation becomes law, it could be one of the best things to happen to general aviation in a very long time. I hear from so many pilots who lament the time and expense needed to receive a medical certificate, and even stop flying and sell their airplanes because of it. GAPPA could change all that and keep thousands of pilots flying in the planes they know and love.
When the time is right, this legislation is going to need the support of the pilot community to pass, and we’ll be asking our members to get involved and take action. We’ll let you know exactly how you can help when the time comes. In the meantime, stay tuned and we’ll keep you up to date on this and all the issues that are changing the way we fly.