Full Senate Passes Pilots Bill of Rights 2

Elizabeth A Tennyson | Senior Director of Communications, AOPA

The full Senate has passed the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, which will now go to the House for consideration. The Senate passed the bill, which includes third class medical reform, by unanimous consent on Dec. 15, less than a week after it was reported out by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The House must also pass the bill before it can go to the president for a signature.

“This is an enormous step toward getting long-awaited third class medical reforms, and we’re excited that the Senate has moved so decisively to get this done,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “Without a doubt this has been a real fight, but the passage of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 shows that members of the Senate recognize the value of supporting the general aviation community. This legislation will help hundreds of thousands of general aviation pilots by saving them time, money, and frustration while giving them tools they need to take charge of their health and fitness to fly.”

The bill must also pass the House, where it has 152 bipartisan cosponsors, before it can go to the president for his signature.

“These reforms are vital to the future of general aviation, and we are grateful for the leadership of Senators Jim Inhofe and Joe Manchin as well as Senators John Thune, Bill Nelson, and the 71 bipartisan cosponsors who have made this possible,” said Baker.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 in the Senate in February as a follow up to the original Pilot’s Bill of Rights measure he championed that became law in 2012. In addition to medical reform, the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 includes a number of protections for pilots facing FAA enforcement actions.

Under the medical reforms of Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, most pilots who have held a valid third class medical, either regular or special issuance, within 10 years of the legislation’s enactment would never need to get another FAA medical exam. The rule would apply to pilots flying VFR or IFR in aircraft weighing up to 6,000 pounds and carrying up to five passengers at altitudes below 18,000 feet and speeds up to 250 knots.

Pilots who develop certain medical conditions, including a small list of specific cardiac, mental health, or neurological conditions, will have to get an FAA special issuance medical one time only, significantly reducing the time and money spent navigating the FAA’s medical bureaucracy.

For pilots who have not had a valid medical in the past 10 years and those who have never applied for and received a medical certificate, a one-time third class medical certification by an aviation medical examiner will be required. After a pilot has been medically certified once, either through the regular or special-issuance processes, he or she will also be able to fly indefinitely without needing to go through the FAA medical certification process again.

After pilots have met these requirements, they will need to visit their personal physician once every four years for a medical exam. Pilots will need to fill out a form and provide it to the doctor performing the exam. The pilot must make a note of the visit and keep the signed form in his or her logbook.

The form will include a short medical history questionnaire as well as a list of items the doctor must include in the examination. Following the exam, both the physician and the pilot must sign the form verifying that the items were examined and discussed.

During deliberations prior to passage of the bill by the full Senate, language was added requiring the physician to certify that he or she is not aware of any medical condition that, as it is currently being treated, would interfere with the ability to fly safely.

AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association are committed to working with doctors and medical organizations to ensure that physicians understand the intent of the form and are comfortable with the requirements so they can keep their patients well and flying.

The process of bringing the bill this far has been one of compromise and negotiation.

“This is a big milestone, and our members deserve credit,” said Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs. “In a climate where only about 3 percent of all bills introduced in Congress actually become law, this is a significant step forward. And while the legislation is not everything we might wish for, it will make a big difference for many, many pilots.”

Unlike today’s third class medical, the new exam and form will not require the doctor to make a “pass/fail” judgment and no information about the exam needs to be provided to the FAA unless it is specifically requested. The FAA can request additional information from a pilot if it receives credible or urgent information, including information from the National Driver Register or the FAA Safety Hotline, that the pilot may not be able to safely operate an aircraft.

In addition to the medical exam by a personal physician once every four years, pilots will be required to take a free online education course on aeromedical factors every two years. The course will be designed to increase awareness and understanding of medical factors that can affect a pilot’s fitness to fly.

Under the bill, the FAA will have a year from the date the legislation becomes law to produce a final rule reflecting the legislation’s provisions. If the final rule is not ready within one year of the bill’s enactment, pilots will be allowed to fly under the guidelines set out in the legislation without facing FAA enforcement action. The legislation also directs the FAA to streamline the special issuance medical process and identify additional medical conditions that AMEs can issue medical certificates for without requiring the pilot to go through the special issuance medical process.

Revised sleep apnea policy responds to GA’s concerns

By General Aviation News Staff

More than a year of lobbying work by general aviation’s advocacy groups on the FAA’s sleep apnea policy has brought considerable revisions to the agency’s original proposal, which would have forced costly sleep studies on pilots even if they had shown no symptoms of the disorder.

The new policy, which takes effect March 2, will not disqualify pilots from receiving a medical certificate based solely on body mass index (BMI). Pilots believed to be at risk for the condition will receive a regular medical certificate and be required to undergo a follow-up assessment. Those who are diagnosed with the condition must receive treatment to continue flying.

“The FAA’s new policy, as proposed, will not require a sleep study unless a pilot reports symptoms specifically associated with sleep apnea to their aviation medical examiner,” said Sean Elliott, vice president of advocacy and safety for the Experimental Aircraft Association. “We are still studying all the details of this proposed policy, but it is an improvement on the agency’s initial proposal more than a year ago that was quite overreaching, mandating additional tests based on Body Mass Index and other indicators even if no symptoms had been present. We found that very intrusive and draconian. EAA felt it was very important to get back to common-sense guidelines that can be primarily addressed between pilots and their local aviation medical examiners.”

The new policy “combines a focus on safety with a commonsense approach that lets pilots who haven’t been diagnosed with an illness keep flying,” added Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

The issue of sleep apnea came to the forefront in 2013 when the federal air surgeon described a planned policy change in an FAA medical bulletin. Under the original FAA proposal, pilots with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater would have been required to undergo testing for sleep apnea by a board certified sleep specialist. The FAA said it planned to expand the policy to include all pilots with a BMI of 30 or greater.

But GA’s alphabet groups strongly objected to requiring thousands of pilots to go through expensive and intrusive testing based exclusively on BMI. The groups turned to Congress for assistance, and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would have required the FAA to go through the rulemaking process before introducing any new policy on sleep disorders.

In December 2013, the FAA stepped back from its initial announcement and began working with pilots and GA advocacy groups to address concerns about sleep apnea.

For moderate to severe sleep apnea, the most common treatment is the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or automatic positive airway pressure (APAP) device

Under the new policy, announced Jan. 23, the risk of obstructive sleep apnea will be determined through an integrated assessment of the pilot’s medical history and symptoms, as well as physical and clinical findings. Aviation medical examiners will be provided with guidance from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to assist them in determining each pilot’s risk.

Pilots who are determined to be at significant risk will receive a regular medical certificate and undergo a sleep apnea evaluation. That evaluation can be performed by any physician, including the aviation medical examiner, and does not require a sleep study unless the physician believes one is needed.

Pilots will have 90 days to complete the evaluation and forward the results to the FAA’s Aerospace Medicine Certification Division, the Regional Flight Surgeon’s office, or the aviation medical examiner. Thirty day extensions will be available to pilots who need more time to complete the process.

If the evaluation does not lead to a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea, no further action will be required. Pilots who are diagnosed with sleep apnea will then have to send documentation of effective treatment to arrange for a special issuance medical certificate to replace the regular medical certificate issued previously.

The new policy also eliminates the initial plan by the FAA to eventually extend required sleep evaluation to those with a BMI of at least 30. That provision was among the most-opposed by EAA, as it was predictive medicine without evidence of safety benefit that would be extremely costly for pilots, even those without symptoms, association officials noted.

“We appreciate the FAA’s willingness to move forward toward a more realistic policy for addressing and treating this disorder within the aviation community,” Elliott said.

“It’s also important for pilots to be forthcoming with their personal AMEs if they do have sleep apnea symptoms, for their personal safety and that of their passengers,” he continued. “This is not simply because it’s required within the regulations. As EAA continues to push for medical certificate reform, we are telling regulators, the Administration, and Congress that pilots are responsible when self-certifying their fitness prior to every flight. Reporting and addressing disqualifying conditions by those who have them are essential to our overall goal of wider freedoms for pilot medical certification.”

Outlook good for third-class medical overhaul bill in 2015


As the year draws to a close, bipartisan support continues to build for congressional legislation to remove the third-class medical requirement for operating a variety of general aviation (GA) aircraft.

Introduced last December by House GA Caucus Co-Chairman Rep. Sam Graves (R-6-MO) and Rep. Todd Rokita (R-4-IN), the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act of 2013 (H.R.3708) would allow pilots to operate certain single-engine aircraft without obtaining a third-class medical certificate, under visual flight rules, and as long as they otherwise met certification requirements.

Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) sponsored an identical bill (S.2103) in the Senate.

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