Long Awaited Airmen Medical Reform has Arrived

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If you’ve been involved with general aviation at all over the past decade or so you’ve surely heard the phrase, “3rd class medical reform.”

Often it was the featured tune of the efforts of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). This has been a hot button issue with a shrinking, aging pilot population, especially in the general aviation ranks.

I’ll gladly say, good work to AOPA! It was a long battle, with give and take on both sides but today the FAA announced the details of the long awaited 3rd class medical reform as required by Congressional action during 2016. The new program, known as BasicMed, comes into effect on May 1st, not all that long from today!

Presently for a pilot to fly a general aviation airplane for recreational purposes the pilot has to complete a medical exam with an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). The AME would pronounce the pilot fit for flight and issue a medical certificate, 3rd class for recreational flying or higher (1st or 2nd) depending on the needs/pilot certification of the pilot. That is of course, unless any one of a large number of triggers was hit which would complicate things for the pilot. Turning an hour long office visit to a many months long grueling process. However, as people age more and more, non-life threatening health items pop up and inevitably this slows down the process of receiving the medical certificate, causing angst and frustration for the applicant. Seeking to reduce barriers to flying, AOPA took up the cause to change how the process works. Their victory opens the doors of flying to many airmen who chose not to pursue medical certificates over previous years in fear of being “denied” the right to fly.

Ultimately, the new method doesn’t change the standard for fitness to fly, it changes the responsibility of knowledge and it should reduce the barriers many pilots (or prospective pilots) face when it comes to gaining medical clearance to fly.

The new method of eliminates the need for a 3rd class medical certificate for a number of pilots who have previously held one that is still current or has lapsed. BasicMed allows pilots fly aircraft weighing 6,000 pounds or less with no more than 6 people (pilot included) with a drivers license. Other details include: pilots can fly day or night, VFR or IFR, up to 18,000′ MSL and at or below 250 knots indicated airspeed. It’s important to note there is no limitations on the aircraft other than weight (i.e.- engines, complex, etc…). Finally, the pilot can not be operating for compensation or hire under the framework of BasicMed. As of now there is no indication the 3rd class medical requirement for a flight instructor will change.

The rule also requires pilots take an online course every 24-calendar months to stay current on the rules (remember I said the new rule shifts the responsibility of knowledge?) and the pilots must complete a medical examination with their personal doctor every four years. During the exam the doctor must cover an FAA checklist of prescribed items.

This means your regular family doctor can complete the FAA requirements during your normal annual check up, which means no more special AME visits and no more medical exam fees!

Ultimately, I believe this goes further, pilots have been known to avoid doctors because they don’t want to have something come up that interferes with their flying. This regulatory change, I believe, will encourage pilots to visit their doctors, stay in the know and get the most out of their pilot’s license without having to worry about avoiding the doctor. It’s good to see the FAA trusting pilots with the responsibility of knowledge portion too, I believe this further signals the FAA’s evolution as an agency.

The FAA also released an Advisory Circular to provide more information for pilots, AC 68-1, which you can find HERE.

-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9

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