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EAA Government Advocacy

EAA, AOPA to Request Medical Certification Exemption

Medical awareness training would replace third-class medical for "recreational" flying - EAA and AOPA will seek an exemption from the FAA to allow online medical awareness training and testing to replace the third-class medical certificate for pilots flying for “recreational purposes,” regardless of the pilot certificate currently held.

The exemption will seek to allow the use of driver’s license medical certification when a pilot flies daytime-VFR only in fixed-gear, single-engine aircraft with no more than four seats and 180 hp. There are no weight or speed restrictions, but there is a limit of one passenger per flight.

Instead, the exemption would add the requirement for pilot medical education and awareness. EAA and AOPA believe the new medical training will enhance safety because pilots would be required to learn about important medical issues that could affect flying safety. Pilots already must assess their fitness to fly before every flight; this training would give them the tools to make more-informed decisions.

The exemption would apply to those pilots who hold recreational, private, or higher pilot certificates. The exemption is expected to be filed in early 2012, after a syllabus for the online medical training and testing is developed.

“This exemption is unique because it doesn’t tie driver’s license medical certification to a particular pilot certificate,” said Sean Elliott, EAA’s vice president of industry and regulatory affairs. “Instead it uses the type of flying a pilot will do and offers ways to enhance flight safety.”

EAA and AOPA are basing the exemption on several key findings. Those include the positive database of self-certification within the sport pilot community since 2004, as well as the glider and ballooning communities; the ability to increase safety for pilots by remaining in familiar aircraft while self-certifying; and the potential to keep able pilots flying without expensive and time-consuming hurdles to medical certification.

EAA will advise members when the exemption is submitted to FAA and provide information about how to comment on it.

Signing on to Battle User Fees

EAA is again engaged in the latest user-fees threat, which came as part of the Obama administration budget proposal in September. The $100 per fl ight “surcharge” introduced for commercial and some GA operations is simply another effort to impose user fees on aviation, despite repeated rejections by Congress over the last decade.

EAA is pursuing every avenue to ensure the aviation community is united behind the effort. One initiative this fall picked up traction quickly after publicity by EAA and other aviation groups. An individual in Iowa used the White House’s We the People website to urge signatures to his “Take Aviation User Fees Off the Table” petition. As of press time, nearly 10,000 signatures had been collected; that’s many more than the 5,000 required to ensure a White House review of the petition and response.

More than 100 members of Congress also sent a letter to House and Senate leaders—opposing the inclusion of any aviation user fees. The letter stated that user fees would “have a devastating impact on the aviation industry and fails to achieve our shared goal of improving the economy and creating jobs.”

Experimental Fatal Accidents Exceed FAA Metric

The FAA set a not-to-exceed (NTE) level of 70 fatal experimental aircraft accidents for the fiscal year 2011 that ended on September 30. Unfortunately, 73 fatal accidents occurred, up from 65 the year before. The FAA number includes all subcategories of experimental aircraft, including amateur-built (AB), E-LSA, racing, exhibition, R&D, and market survey.

FAA’s FY11 total includes the highly modified P-51 Reno accident aircraft, a Gulfstream 650, a Sikorsky S-58P R&D aircraft, exhibition aircraft accidents during aerobatics at air shows, and a Christen Eagle amateur-built fatality flown by a foreign certificated pilot in an air show in Indonesia. Nine out of the 10 E-LSA were formerly exempted “fat ultralights” that met no design standard or the 51-percent rule for amateur-built aircraft.

The FAA does not separate AB accidents from the larger experimental category, which gives a less-than-accurate picture of AB safety. Fatal accidents in AB aircraft reached 51 in FY11, a slight uptick from last year, but similar to the numbers over the last five years. Meanwhile, an average of 1,000 aircraft is added to the fleet per year.

“Even though the fatal accident total is comparable to the past five years, it’s frankly too many. The NTE level is a number, but whether we end up below, at, or above, we must do better,” said EAA Government & Advocacy Specialist David Oord. “Each is a fatal accident in which we lost our friends, our family, and our fellow aviators.”

Although the subcategories of experimental aircraft have very different operational characteristics and levels of associated risk, they are all included in the FAA metric. EAA would prefer each category, especially amateur-built, to have its own metric to reflect the complexities and differences inherit in each subset.

Why an Exemption?

With all the Buzz surrounding the recently announced AOPA/EAA request for an exemption to the medical certification regulations for recreational flying, it’s important to explain the strategy behind seeking an exemption versus undertaking FAA rulemaking. AOPA and EAA believe that pursuing an exemption will yield the greatest chance of the FAA granting new privileges for pilots who fly recreationally.

As it functions today, rulemaking is a cumbersome, lengthy, and costly process. It takes a minimum of five to seven years from the beginning of a rulemaking project to completion, assuming the project reaches the level of priority needed to bring action by the FAA. Very few proposed rulemaking projects are ever undertaken. When proposals such as the AOPA/EAA medical petition have to compete with rulemaking initiatives the FAA views as critical to safety, it is clear where the agency applies its resources.

Exemptions are granted under certain conditions to applicants who can demonstrate an equivalent or greater level of safety to existing regulations, and they are renewed on a periodic basis. This means that over time, assumptions can be tested, results tracked, and improvements developed where necessary. It is an ideal way to expand privileges in a controlled environment while gaining experience and data to support the ultimate change in the regulations.

The FAA has denied or failed to act upon petitions and other proposals for rulemaking on the medical issue by EAA, AOPA, and private citizens more than a dozen times in the last two decades, often on the basis of insufficient data. The initial experience gained under the sport pilot rules combined with data gathered under the proposed medical exemption program should form the basis for permanent regulatory change in the future. And, while not covering everyone who would like to fly recreationally without a third-class medical certificate, the exemption would provide enormous benefit to a large segment of the general aviation community and offer a potential path for more sweeping changes in the future.

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EAA's Government Relations department works to preserve the freedom of flight and reduce the regulatory barriers affecting affordability and access to EAA members’ participation in aviation. Protecting the freedom to fly is the foundation on which all of the organization’s advocacy initiatives are built. EAA fights to preserve this freedom by providing clear solutions and practical alternatives backed by hard work and dedication. EAA’s 55-year history of success is a testament to that philosophy.

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