FAA third class medical reform ruling goes into effect
To celebrate or not to celebrate is the significant question
Third Class Medical Reform has had an intense, long journey from its introduction to Congress in 2011 to its final passage and signing into law in 2016. Introduced as the Pilot’s Bill of Rights by Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the bill was subsequently revised to the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 (PBR2), attached to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), became part of an FAA funding extension bill in the House and Senate, then ultimately signed into law by President Obama July 15, 2016.
The FAA then adopted the Third Class Medical Reform Rule (FAR Part 68) known as BasicMed, which will go into effect May 1, 2017. Under the reform, pilots meeting initial requirements to fly will need to undergo a medical examination with any state-licensed physician at least once every four years. This differs from the previous requirement of an FAA medical examiner conducting the exam.
As stated in a news article posted to the AOPA website (www.aopa.org), “Under the reforms, pilots who have held a valid medical certificate any time in the date prior to July 15, 2016, many not need to take another FAA medical exam.”
According to AOPA, Pilots must also take the free aeromedical factors online course every two years. AOPA will provide the course for free on its website.
“BasicMed is the best thing to happen to general aviation in decades,” said AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker. Baker went on to say that medical decisions are now in the hands of pilots and doctors, not the FAA.
However, before passing out the party hats for a victory gathering, the FAA ruling is being scrutinized from several quarters.
“As with any regulation, the details are critical, and we’ll be carefully analyzing the rule and seeking clarification where needed,” said AOPA senior vice president of government affairs, Jim Coon. “We, along with our supports in Congress worked diligently to bring these reforms to pilots, and now we need to make sure they deliver the benefits lawmakers intended.”
President of the Minnesota Pilots Association and Aviation Medical Examiner Randy Corfman is lukewarm on the FAA ruling.
“AOPA went to great lengths to get this passed,” said Corfman. “I think it’s a step in the right direction, but I’m not sure this is where we want it to be. The good new is, there is relief from the third class medical, making it easier for pilots to remain certified to fly.
“The negative side is, physicians familiar with our care, but not necessarily familiar with aviation, will be in a position to have to sign off saying we are physically fit to fly.”
The obvious challenge for physicians is liability.
“Physicians are going to have to make sure their medical malpractice insurance is going to cover them,” said Corfman. “I don’ t know that many physicians are going to be willing to take that leap of faith, to sign a statement to that effect.”
Corfman said another point of dissention in the final ruling is AME liability protection did not make into the final version of the law. This means defense lies with doctors in cases of litigation.
Perhaps the most contentious aspect of the FAA ruling is the Hotline Report.
“If somebody would call in an FAA hotline report on an airman regarding medical issues,” said Corfman, “since there will no longer be a medical certificate to revoke, the office of Aerospace Medicine will no longer investigate. It goes to the FAA’s district office, (FDSO) and if the pilot is found to having problems, they have to surrender their actual pilots license.
“So right now they could take away your medical, but you still have your pilot license. All you have to do is jump through the hoops it takes to get your medical back. However, once you lose your pilots license, the way to get it back is not clear.”
Until May 1, current law remains in effect. Even after BasicMed becomes active, Corfman warns in a post on his medical issues blog on SuperCub.org: “Pilots need to be reminded that they are still accountable under DFR 61.53, which states the Pilot still has the responsibility to not fly if he/she has a medical condition or is taking medication which could impair their ability to act as Pilot in Command.”
For more information on the FAA ruling, and for continued updates on AOPAs observations on the structure and effects of BasicMed, visit AOPA online.