In February’s issue, I used this space to discuss efforts to deregulate FAA requirements for some pilots to hold a medical certificate while serving as pilot in command. After the FAA failed to act on a 2012 petition from AOPA and EAA, the two organizations began working with interested members of Congress to develop appropriate legislation. That bill, H.R. 3708, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in December, and presently enjoys 93 cosponsors. On March 11, 2014, companion bill S. 2103, was introduced in the U.S. Senate. It has nine cosponsors.
Thanks to an outpouring of interest, the original 2012 petition garnered some 16,000 comments at the FAA, the vast majority of which were favorable. That petition basically would have extended so-called “driver’s license medical” privileges—similar to those enjoyed by sport pilots—to private pilots of slightly larger aircraft. After collecting comments, the FAA halted its public efforts.
Earlier this year, AOPA and EAA mounted a grassroots campaign in support of the House bill, named the “General Aviation Pilot Protection Act of 2013,” and its Senate counterpart. Thanks to those efforts, Congress is increasingly aware of the need to deregulate the medical certificate. So is the FAA.
In fact, the FAA is so aware of this need, it suddenly in early April announced it would “go through a rulemaking process that could result in expanding the number of pilots eligible to fly without the need for a third class medical certificate,” as AOPA put it. In other words, the FAA failed to respond to the 2012 petition and only took formal action in 2014 when it became apparent there was growing support among Congresscritters for such a move.
It’s clear to me the FAA’s acquiescence to a rulemaking is a delaying tactic. Now the FAA can tell Congress it is working on the problem with a rulemaking project—known as “Private Pilot Privileges without a Medical Certificate,” according to AOPA—and just needs more time to complete it. Why should Congress pass legislation on something already underway? At this point, it’s appropriate to note that FAA rulemaking efforts of five years’ duration are not uncommon. It’s also clear the effort to deregulate the FAA medical certificate is a victim of its own success: Without introduction of two bills and successful efforts to add cosponsors, the FAA would not even have begun acting on the 2012 petition.
Hopefully, Congress will view the FAA’s response to the AOPA/EAA petition for what it is: Too little, too late, and a cynical, “nothingburger” delaying tactic. In any event, the petition has been superceded: The twin Congressional bills would expand the driver’s license medical far beyond the original petition, to faster and heavier aircraft.
As we wrote in February, this is an idea whose time has come, thanks to almost 10 years of history with the sport pilot certificate. Here’s hoping Congress ignores the FAA on this one. — Jeb Burnside