Medical Reform Moves Forward, but with Big Changes

Revised bill cuts off thousands of pilots.

Medical Certificate

Medical Certificate

Third-class medical reform is moving forward in the Senate, but you might not like the compromises that are being made to the original bill to allow it to reach the floor for a vote.

When Sen. James Inhofe last February introduced the Pilots Bill of Rights 2 in a quest to reform third-class medical requirements, many pilots saw it as their golden ticket back into the cockpit. Then the Air Line Pilots Association objected to letting "medically unfit" pilots share the same airspace with their members, and the bill was DOA.

So Inhofe rewrote PBR2. It looks like the new version has an excellent shot at passing. But it's a stab in the back courtesy of ALPA for many pilots who were hopeful that they'd get to fly again.

The Senate Transportation Committee plans to move the bill forward next week. As rewritten, it has broad support in Congress. AOPA president Mark Baker called it a “very significant step forward.”

We agree, it's a good bill. But it could have been a great one.

So what's changed? The new version will require new pilots to receive an initial FAA medical exam to serve as a health baseline. Pilots who haven't had an FAA medical exam in more than 10 years will need to get one as well. After that, most private pilots flying single-engine airplanes and carrying no more than five passengers will never need to receive an FAA medical exam again.

They will, however, need to take an online course once every two years and see their personal physician once every four years and make a note of the visit in their logbook.

Pilots who have had a heart condition involving surgery, mental issues or neurological disorders would be required to go through the special issuance medical process once.

So while it's an important step forward, the third class medical really isn't going away. It will merely be less of a hassle for most private pilots. For the thousands of pilots who haven't flown in many years and saw PBR2 as a panacea, sorry to disappoint you, but you've been left out in the cold.