Stop the 3rd Class Medical Madness

3rd Class Medical Blog Flying

There's been a lot of nervous hand wringing over the idea of letting more recreational pilots self-certify that they are fit for flight by forgoing the formal FAA medical process.

Christopher Hart, the acting head of the National Transportation Safety Board, told lawmakers recently he is "very concerned about pilots flying without adequate medical standards," pronouncing before a House subcommittee that doing away with the 3rd class medical, among other worrying things, would make pilots less likely "to pay attention to the FAA's list of prohibited drugs."

To that, I respond, what is the NTSB smoking?

The GA pilots who would fall under the new so-called driver's license medical standards only need to be checked by an FAA medical examiner once every two years as the rule stands now – and once every five years if the pilot is under 40.

Is Hart not also "very concerned" about these time gaps between medicals? He didn't say, but he did submit to Congress that he has absolutely no data to back up his nebulous assertions about 3rd class medicals and flight safety. "So far we haven't seen enough accidents to warrant an agency position on it," he said, according to Roll Call.


Hart's assertion that pilots who need only self-certify fitness to fly, as is the case with recreational sport pilots today, would then skirt FAA rules with regard to prohibited drugs is, quite frankly, insulting to pilots everywhere. That he makes such a claim with no evidence or data to back up his premise makes his argument hard to take seriously.

In the United States today, people operate motorboats, wave runners, snowmobiles, ATVs and countless other recreational vehicles without having to submit to the same medical screening standards that pilots are subjected to. For commercial pilots, yes, there is an obvious public safety consideration in conducting periodic medical exams. For a private pilot who is flying for his or her own pleasure or business, self-assessment is good enough.

How do I know? We GA pilots do it now, before every single flight we take.

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