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Third-class Medical Certification: A Big Win for GA

By Jack J. Pelton, EAA CEO/Chairman


July 24, 2016 - For the past five years, EAA’s number one government advocacy priority has been reforming the FAA’s third-class medical certification system. Why? Because that is what EAA members wanted. We fought through many challenges and over numerous hurdles to make it happen. It’s an example of how important your EAA membership can be, because our combined influence made a difference.

On July 15, President Obama signed a funding extension for the FAA that included third-class medical certification reform. More details and specifics are available in this section. But what I want to state is how important this is for general aviation. This change will reduce the financial and regulatory burdens and result in less hassle for thousands of pilots. It will make it easier to fly for many people. It is a win for everyone who loves and supports recreational flight.

I must mention a few people by name who were instrumental in getting to this point. First is Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma). After his success with the initial Pilot’s Bill of Rights in 2011, he saw the need in other areas for better protections and possibilities for GA pilots. Those ideas became the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, for which Inhofe fought tirelessly—getting the Senate to pass the measure on three separate occasions including in the Senate version of the FAA reauthorization bill.

Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Indiana) was the first to set medical reform legislation in motion through his introduction of the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act (GAPPA) in 2014. Longtime pilot and EAA member Rep. Sam Graves (R-Missouri) pressed that legislation forward and ultimately introduced a companion version of Inhofe’s Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 in the House. The pair were invaluable in the ongoing negotiations with House leadership regarding the FAA funding legislation that eventually contained the final version of medical reform.

This is the first aeromedical reform package to make it all the way through the FAA/DOT rulemaking committee or Congress in nine attempts by EAA and/or AOPA, going back more than a quarter century. We said at the beginning that the legislative process is painstaking, time-consuming work subject to political or personal whims and non-aviation agendas. That was the case but, in the end, we got it done.

And this reform is not just for older pilots seeking to maintain currency in the under-6,000-pound airplanes they are most familiar with. Young pilots or those just entering the GA community will find immense economic and regulatory benefits, as they can choose to have one AME medical exam at the start of their flying life and use the simplified process after that. We believe that visiting one’s personal physician every four years and taking an online aeromedical briefing every two years is a fair requirement for the freedom and responsibility involved in piloting a personal aircraft larger than the light-sport category.

This has been a long effort, at times fraught with uncertainly and change. But we got it done. Let’s celebrate this major achievement at Oshkosh! Let’s also take the time to learn how this will affect us individually, and how we can build on this for even more progress in the future.

Jack J. Pelton

CEO/Chairman of the Board

Experimental Aircraft Association

EAA reaches its goal!

Third-class medical reform now law

President signs FAA funding bill that includes aeromedical reform

A huge number of EAA members and other aviators will now be free from many of the expenses and hassles of the current FAA medical certification system under legislation signed on July 15 by President Obama reforming that system. The provision was included in an FAA funding extension that replaces a short-term funding measure that expired on July 15.

“It’s important to celebrate this moment, which has been a long time coming and resulted from an incredible amount of work over the past five years,” said Jack J. Pelton, EAA CEO/chairman. “EAA was a leader in getting this done because it was the right thing to do for members, working in cooperation with fellow aviation organizations, congressional leaders, and others to persistently pursue this path against many challenges. This win is for everyone who loves recreational flight.”

Details of the new provision, its timeline, and what it means for pilots are outlined in EAA’s Frequently Asked Questions sheet on third-class medical reform. More information about it will also be available at the EAA Member Center during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2016. EAA’s advocacy and membership teams will also be talking with members regarding the bill’s language and what it means for individual members, and hosting an informational forum on Monday, July 25, at 1 p.m. in Forum Pavilion 3.

Also, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), a longtime pilot and EAA member who authored the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 that contained the medical reform language, will be in Oshkosh to discuss the new law.  Inhofe will speak on Saturday, July 30, at 10 a.m. in Forum Pavilion 1. Reps. Sam Graves (R-Missouri) and Todd Rokita (R-Indiana), who led the effort in the House, are also expected to attend AirVenture.

Meanwhile, appreciation from EAA members quickly came via social media and other channels to thank EAA for its persistence in getting medical reform to the finish line:

“Props to EAA…for helping shepherd this through!”

“Good job to all at EAA who have worked tirelessly for our benefit…you all rock!”

“That is great news! Really believe this will have a positive influence on our industry.”

“It’s been a long haul. Thanks for staying the course.”

“Now maybe someday I can fly again!”

Aeromedical reform has been a top advocacy priority of EAA members for a number of years, and led to EAA and AOPA initially petitioning the FAA for changes in the third-class medical certification process. The goal was to reduce the unnecessary regulatory and expense barriers that pushed aviators out of recreational flying and kept potential pilots from engaging in aviation. This new law, which will fully take effect within the next 12 months, surpasses the initial petition request by including more pilots and aircraft. 


March 2012                                

EAA and AOPA petition the FAA to give pilots who fly recreationally the option of getting a third-class medical or, instead, participating in a recurrent online education program that will teach them how to self-assess their fitness to fly.

June 2012                                    

The FAA opens the petition for public comment for three months, through mid-September 2012.

December 2013                          

Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Indiana) introduces the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act (GAPPA), which includes third-class medical certification reform language. A companion measure was subsequently introduced in the Senate.

August 2014                               

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announces at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh that more than 16,000 comments had been received regarding the EAA/AOPA petition and the goal was to have a rule for public comment by fall 2014.

February 2015                           

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) introduces the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 in the U.S. Senate, which includes third-class medical reform language similar to the previous GAPPA bill and more extensive than that requested in the 2012 EAA/AOPA petition for exemption.

June 2015                                    

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Sen. John Boozman (R-Arkansas) offer a third-class medical certification reform amendment to a Senate transportation bill.

July 2015                                     

At AirVenture, Huerta announces that the EAA/AOPA petition is still awaiting final action from the Department of Transportation to advance to the rulemaking process. EAA also fires back at the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) regarding a letter opposing aeromedical reform, which ALPA sent to all senators.

September 2015                         

The Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 gains a Senate supermajority when it surpassed 60 Senate co-sponsors.

December 2015                          

The U.S. Senate passes the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 on a bipartisan vote after extensive negotiation with Commerce Committee members and Senate leaders over third-class medical certification reform. The bill is sent to the House.

February 2016                           

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pennsylvania) introduces the House version of an FAA reauthorization bill that includes medical reform language similar to that contained in GAPPA. The bill passes out of committee but never makes it to a floor vote.

April 2016                                   

Inhofe includes Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 provisions in the Senate’s FAA reauthorization bill, which passes the Senate 95-3.

July 2016                                     

With FAA authorization set to expire, the House and Senate agree to a 14-month authorization extension with some broadly agreed-to policy implementation, including medical reforms contained within the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2.

July 11, 2016                               

The House passes the FAA extension and medical reform.

July 13, 2016                               

The Senate passes the FAA extension and medical reform.

July 15, 2016                               

President Obama signs the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, making medical reform law. 

From Congressional Leaders

“Time and again the Senate has voted to pass the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, showing the strong bipartisan support there is among my colleagues for the general aviation community and specifically for reforming onerous third-class medical regulations. Now we have finally accomplished this goal with third-class medical reform included in the FAA extension that has successfully passed both chambers and [was] signed into law by the president. This is a huge win for general aviation and will ensure that GA pilots across the country are not overburdened by existing medical certification regulations. I am grateful for the strong and consistent voice of EAA members who shared why third-class medical reform is necessary. I want to thank Jack Pelton, CEO/chairman of the Experimental Aircraft Association, and his team for their leadership and support from the beginning and all their work to educate my colleagues in Congress on issues that affect pilots.”

– Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma)

“This FAA extension is a win for general aviation. With provisions on third-class medical reform and tower marking requirements that improve safety for aviators, we can begin to fix some of our industry’s most pressing challenges. With that said, we must press forward to address some policies not included in this bill, such as lengthening the time frame of aircraft registration, repealing statutory flight restrictions at sports stadiums near air shows, and permanently killing the threat of FAA fees for ATC services at air shows like Oshkosh and Sun ’n Fun.”

– Rep. Sam Graves (R-Missouri)

“I have truly appreciated working with Jack Pelton and the staff at EAA to ensure that all aviators can fly without burdensome bureaucratic mandates. As we work towards a long-term FAA bill next year, I look forward to continuing to work with EAA to protect the rights of all pilots.”

– Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Indiana)

Aeromedical reform FAQs

Here are answers to some of the major questions EAA members are asking about third-class medical reform:

What is the current state of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2?                                

On July 15, President Obama signed third-class medical reform into law as part of the 2016 FAA extension bill passed by Congress.

Who will benefit from this reform?                                                                          

Anyone who flies with a third-class medical certificate can benefit from this reform. In fact, almost anyone who has held a regular or special issuance third-class medical certificate within the 10 years preceding July 15, 2016, will never again need to visit an aviation medical examiner (AME). If you’ve never held a third-class medical certificate, you will need to get a medical certificate one time only. If your regular or special issuance medical certificate lapsed more than 10 years before the legislation is enacted, you will need to get a medical certificate one time only. And if you develop certain cardiac, neurological, or psychological conditions, you will need a one-time-only special issuance medical.

What’s in the bill?                                                                                                                

You will need to visit your personal physician at least once every four years and provide an FAA-developed checklist of issues to be discussed during the visit. Both you and your physician will need to sign the checklist saying that you discussed the items on it. You will then need to make a note of the visit and include the checklist in your logbook. You do not need to report the outcome of the visit or file any paperwork with the FAA unless you are specifically requested to do so.

You also will need to take online training in aeromedical factors every two years. The training will be offered free of charge.

Pilots flying under the new rules will be allowed to operate aircraft that weigh up to 6,000 pounds, carry up to five passengers plus the pilot in command, fly at altitudes below 18,000 feet, and at speeds of up to 250 knots. Pilots, if appropriately rated, can fly VFR or IFR in qualified aircraft.

How does this legislation compare with the petition for medical

reform that EAA and AOPA filed jointly back in 2012?                                       

The legislation greatly expands the number of pilots and aircraft who will be eligible to fly under third-class medical reform. The table below compares some of the key points.

3rd Class Medical Chart

What will be in the checklist for the medical exam?                              

The checklist will have two parts—questions to be answered by the pilot in advance of the exam and a list of items for the doctor to include in the examination. The questions will include identifying information like name and address, date of birth, a short medical history and list of current medications, and information about whether you’ve ever had an FAA medical certificate denied, suspended, or revoked.

The list of items for the doctor to cover in the examination are now part of the third-class medical exam and are typical to those found in any routine physical. These items include:

• Head, face, neck, scalp       • Nose, sinuses, mouth, throat     • Ears and eardrums

• Eyes                                  • Lungs and chest                    • Heart

• Vascular system                   • Abdomen and viscera         • Anus

• Skin                                    • GU system                           • Upper and lower extremities

• Spine, other musculo-skeletal    • Body marks, scars, tattoos        • Lymphatics

• Neurologic                              • Psychiatric                               • General systemic

• Hearing                                    • Vision                                        • Blood pressure and pulse

And anything else the physician in his or her medical judgment considers necessary.

The doctor will have to indicate that he or she has made the necessary checks, and both the pilot and doctor will need to sign the form.

Do I have to go to an AME for the general medical exam required every four years? How does the FAA know that I complied with that rule?                                                     

No, you can go to any primary care physician for your exam; you do not need to visit an AME. To demonstrate compliance, just enter the visit in your logbook. There’s nothing to report to the FAA unless specifically requested. 

Will this reform change the rules regarding medications?            

No. The rules regarding medications will remain unchanged. So pilots who take a medication that the FAA disallows will still be unable to fly. Because the FAA does not publish a list of disallowed medications, please contact EAA membership services if you have questions about a medication you are taking or that your doctor has recommended.

I understand I will need to get a one-time special issuance medical if

I have certain medical conditions. What are those conditions?   

Those conditions are described in the federal aviation regulations and are limited to an established medical history of the following:

Cardiovascular: myocardial infarction (heart attack); coronary heart disease that has been treated by open heart surgery or cardiac valve replacement; and heart replacement.

Neurological: epilepsy; a transient loss of control of the nervous system; 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; manifested or may reasonably be expected to manifest delusions, hallucinations, grossly bizarre or disorganized behavior, or other commonly accepted symptoms of psychosis; severe bipolar disorder; and substance dependence within the previous two years as defined in FAR 67.307(4).

Pilots who suffer from 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.

When will these new rules go into effect?                                                    

Now that the legislation has been signed into law, the FAA will begin a rulemaking process to make the regulatory changes required by the legislation. To ensure that pilots don’t have to wait indefinitely, there is a provision in the legislation that says if the FAA has not produced a final rule by July 2017 pilots can operate within the parameters of the legislation without fear of enforcement action. In other words, pilots will be able to fly under its provisions within one year of July 15, 2016. Less if the rulemaking is completed more quickly.

How does this help me if I’m on special issuance?                                      

If you currently hold a special issuance third-class medical certificate, or have held one within the 10 years preceding enactment of the legislation, and do not suffer from or develop one of the specific cardiac, neurological, or mental health conditions identified as exceptions, you will never again need to go through the special issuance process. That means you will no longer need to repeat expensive and time-consuming medical tests and submit complex paperwork to the FAA in order to fly. Obtaining a special issuance medical certificate can cost thousands of dollars—that’s money you won’t have to keep spending year after year. Even if you have one of the listed conditions, you will need to get a special issuance one time only—again a savings of thousands of dollars and countless hours of your time.

What if my regular or special issuance medical expires before the law takes effect?

If your regular or special issuance medical certificate expires before the new regulations take effect, you may choose to renew it in order to keep flying. Whether or not you choose to renew your medical certificate to cover the gap period, you will be allowed to fly as soon as the new rules take effect, provided your medical expired within the 10-year window preceding enactment of the legislation.

What if my medical becomes more than 10 years old before the law takes effect?

The clock on the 10-year look-back started on July 15, the day the legislation was enacted, not when its provisions take effect, which could be up to one year later. So, July 15 is the date that counts when it comes to determining whether or not your certificate was valid within the 10-year window. If the last time you held a valid medical was more than 10 years, you will need to go through the medical certification process one more time in order to fly under the new regulations.

Why were there compromises on the reform language?                   

Sen. Jim Inhofe and his staff had to make a choice: Make compromises that would allow medical reform to move forward and help hundreds of thousands of pilots or allow this latest attempt at medical reform to die. A number of lawmakers made it absolutely clear that they would not support the legislation as originally introduced. The compromises Inhofe arrived at represent an improvement in the medical certification process that had sufficient support in Congress to keep the legislation alive.

Will this affect me if I still want to fly as a sport pilot?                    

Not at all. You may still fly light-sport aircraft with at least a sport pilot certificate and a valid driver’s license in lieu of a third-class medical certificate.

Isn’t the requirement to have had a medical certificate within the past 10 years only a move to a 10-year renewal of a medical?       

No. If you are a private pilot and have held a valid medical certificate (regular or special issuance) within 10 years preceding July 15, the date the bill was signed into law, you may never have to visit an AME again. You will simply have to take an online medical education course every two years and visit your personal physician once every four years and note that visit in your logbook. No requirement exists to report the outcome of the visit to the FAA.

What are the requirements for the online course and how much will it cost?

You will have to take the online education course every two years in order to remain eligible to fly under the provisions of the legislation. The beauty of the online education course is that you’ll be able to do it anywhere and anytime you have internet access. That means you can do it at home, on your lunch break at work, at night, on the weekend—any time and place that works for you. The online education course will be available free of charge to all pilots from the AOPA Air Safety Institute.

Will I be able to get insurance if I fly under these new rules?         

Insurance companies have not yet addressed how they will handle medical reforms and are unlikely to do so until medical reform becomes law. Our experience with the sport pilot regulations showed little or no impact on insurance availability or rates. Since each company uses slightly different language regarding medical requirements, the best thing to do is to contact your insurance broker or company and ask how they will handle anticipated reforms. History indicates that compliance with the applicable regulations is typically all that is required by insurance companies.

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