AirVenture Today: Third Class Medical Reform

By:  U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe

Congratulations!  Thanks to the strong and consistent advocacy by the general aviation community, the President has signed into law the third class medical reform we have all been waiting for.  These reforms are the foundation of the bipartisan Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 (S. 571), which has passed the Senate three times since last December, and I am immensely pleased to see them finally enacted.

These reforms are a game changer for pilots across the country.  You and I both know how burdensome today’s third class medical process is, and it’s the product of a system that encourages pilots to hide their medical conditions from the FAA instead of being treated for them. General Aviation is losing thousands of recreational pilots a year on account of FAA’s bureaucracy.  These reforms will help to stem this tide.  I look forward to FAA swiftly working to implement these reforms and meeting the statutory deadline.  I will be the first one to hold their feet to the fire to ensure they do so.

Third class medical reform enhances the safety of the skies by entrusting the ongoing decision of a pilot’s fitness to fly with pilot and their private physicians, where an open and complete dialogue can be established.  Under the new system pilots will be required to undergo a routine medical examination every four years with their personal physician after an initial review by the FAA when they first receive their license.  The legislation requires pilots to be treated for all warranted conditions and to complete a medical education course every two years. 

With this accomplishment under our belt, we cannot forget about the additional provisions of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 (PBOR 2) that still need to be enacted into law.  These provisions include enhanced due process rights for pilots appealing an FAA decision in Federal Court, increased transparency for airmen subject to an FAA enforcement action or a reexamination directive.  Further, the PBOR 2 directs FAA to expedite updates to the NOTAM improvement program and include the effective duration of temporary flight restrictions in NOTAMs.  Finally, it gives airmen increased access to flight data so this information is available for a pilot to use in their defense during an enforcement action proceeding.  These additional provisions were included in the National Defenses Authorization Act passed by the Senate in June earlier this year. I am committed to working with my colleagues in the Senate to ensure these provisions are enacted into law this year.

In addition, I believe we must address in the next FAA Reauthorization bill two efforts that would streamline FAA bureaucracy in support of general aviation.  First are reforms to FAA’s process for certifying general aviation aircraft and aviation products such as engines and avionics.  The reforms would ensure that FAA maintains strong engagement with industry stakeholders so FAA’s safety oversight and certification processes includes performance-based objectives and tracks performance-based metrics.  This is key to eliminating bureaucratic delays and increasing accountability between FAA and the aviation community for type certificate resolution or the installation of safety enhancing technology on small general aviation aircraft.

Second, are reforms removing government red tape that requires contract towers to submit annual cost/benefit reports to FAA.  These reports should be tied to specific air traffic levels, ensuring communities invest resources in their control tower and their airport, instead of filling out unnecessary paperwork.  As you well know, the federal Contract Tower Program serves a vital role in connecting smaller airports and rural communities with the National Aviation System.  Restricting or reducing the operations of contract towers would have a substantial, negative impact on general aviation safety, the efficiency of large commercial airports, emergency medical operations, law enforcement, agriculture activities and businesses throughout the United States.  In addition, many contract tower airports are located near or adjacent to military bases and manage a substantial number of military-related and national security operations, directly supporting the readiness and training of military units.

As I have every year, I am looking forward to engaging with my fellow pilots at my annual EAA Air Venture Oshkosh general aviation forum.  It will be tomorrow, Saturday, July 30 at 10am in Forum Pavilion 7. This year, the topics will include the implementation of third class medical reforms signed into law only two weeks ago; the status of NextGen development; and air traffic control reform and the ways in which it can benefit the general aviation community while addressing the current system’s deficiencies.  I look forward to seeing you there.