In a significant victory for General Aviation, FAA 3rd Class Medical Reform has been enacted by the US Congress and signed by the President. It was part of an FAA Authorization Extension which only covers the FAA until 2017. However, medical reforms will be permanent.
The FAA has 180 days to write new regulations. If, by July 15, 2017, the FAA doesn’t have everything in place, the medical reform takes effect and the FAA cannot enforce the 3rd Class Medical Requirements. (The FAA cannot take enforcement action against a pilot for not holding a valid third class medical certificate as long as the pilot makes a good faith effort to comply with the legislation).
In the meantime, pilots need to continue to comply with the current medical certification requirements in order to fly.
What are the Parameters?
- You can fly an aircraft with no more than 6 seats
- You can fly an aircraft weighing up to 6,000 pounds (single engine or multi-engine)
- There is no limit on horsepower or the type of landing gear
- You can have up to 5 passengers
- Pilots, if appropriately rated, can fly VFR or IFR in the above “covered aircraft.”
- You cannot operate in Class A airspace (18,000’ MSL and above)
- You can fly no faster than 250 knots (IAS)
- You cannot operate for hire – That still requires at least a 2nd Class Medical
Any pilot who has held a valid FAA medical in the past 10 years (prior to July 2016) may not need to take another FAA physical. This includes regular or special issuance medicals. Pilots whose most recent medical certificate was revoked, suspended, withdrawn, or denied will need to obtain a new medical certificate before they can operate under the reforms. Pilots who have never held an FAA medical certificate, including student pilots, will need to go through the process – one time only.
Yes, you’ll need a valid Drivers License. But there’s more! Every four years, you will need to have an exam with your personal, state licensed physician (not an Aviation Medical Examiner). During the visit, he or she will review an FAA specified checklist with you. Your physician will need to certify that he or she has performed an examination and has discussed with you all the items on the checklist, including medications. Your physician will then certify that he/she is unaware of any medical conditions that, as presently treated, could interfere with your ability to safely operate an aircraft. You will then need to make a note of the visit and include the completed checklist in your logbook.
You do not need to report the outcome of the visit to the FAA unless you are specifically requested to do so.
The checklist will have two parts. The first part will include questions for the pilot to answer in advance of the exam. The second part will have items that the physician must go over with each pilot.
The current third class medical process requires the doctor to note whether a patient’s condition is “normal” or “abnormal” and explain any abnormal findings. Under the exemption, the doctor is directed to conduct a medical examination and “address, as medically appropriate, any medical conditions identified.”
Pilots who have never held an FAA medical certificate will need to go through the medical certification process with an aeromedical examiner only once. In most cases, even pilots who have a medical condition that requires a special issuance medical certificate will only have to go through the process once.
The rules regarding medications will remain unchanged. Pilots who take a medication that the FAA disallows, will still be unable to fly while taking the disallowed medication.
Every two years you must complete a free online course on “aeromedical factors”. This course will be offered through the AOPA Air Safety Institute and you’ll need to keep the certificate of completion in your logbook. At that time you’ll need to provide the FAA with some of the same information you do today, including authorization for the National Driver Register to provide your driving record to the FAA and a signed statement certifying that you understand that you can’t operate an aircraft during a medical deficiency and that you don’t know of, or have reason to know of, any medical condition that would prevent you from flying safely.
If you have certain medical conditions, you’ll need to get a one-time special issuance medical. What are those conditions?
- Cardiovascular: myocardial infarction (heart attack); coronary heart disease that has required treatment; cardiac valve replacement; and heart replacement.
- Neurological: epilepsy; a transient loss of control of nervous system functions without satisfactory medical explanation of the cause; and disturbances of consciousness without satisfactory medical explanation of the cause.
- Mental Health: personality disorder that is severe enough to have repeatedly manifested itself by overt acts; psychosis defined as a case in which an individual has manifested or may reasonably be expected to manifest delusions, hallucinations, grossly bizarre or disorganized behavior, or other commonly accepted symptoms of psychosis; bipolar disorder; and substance dependence within the previous two years as defined in FAR 67.307(4).
Pilots who have a clinically diagnosed mental health or neurological condition will be required to certify every two years that they are under the care of a state-licensed medical specialist for that condition. Details of how that certification process will work have not yet been determined.
Pilots with a cardiovascular condition will still need to get a one-time special issuance, but successful completion of a clinical evaluation will satisfy the process for getting an Authorization for Special Issuance of a medical certificate with no mandatory waiting period.
AOPA President Mark Baker said, “Under the old system, pilots flying on a special issuance medical were often expected to repeat the process year after year. They might have to send reams of documentation to the FAA for evaluation, repeat expensive and medically unnecessary tests for health conditions that are unchanged, and spend weeks or months grounded while they wait for the FAA to review their file. “These reforms put decisions about medical care back into the hands of pilots and their personal physicians, people who know them well and have an ongoing interest in their health and well being.”