This will be to the point. There is a lot of information at the links provided. For non-pilots, some basic background information is included first. I know there are a lot of pilots, former pilots and aviation enthusiasts on this site. The first part of this diary will be old news, so feel free to skip to the last section near the bottom. Be sure to read the AOPA/EAA petition (in PDF format) on the FAA linked page.
The Federal Aviation Administration issues medical certificates for pilots. There are three levels of certificate. A Class III medical is good for private pilots. The requirements for passing a Third Class medical are the least strict, but are nevertheless stringent.
Class I & II medical certificates are for commercial pilots. That is, anyone who flies and gets paid for it (for hire) must have a Class II or higher medical certificate. First Class medical certificates are the most rigorous and are required for Air Transport Pilot privileges. That is, to fly airliners. A Second Class medical examination has more stringent requirements than a Third Class medical. Discussion of the First and Second Class FAA medical requirements and examinations are not the subject of this diary, and will not be discussed further.
Several years ago, the FAA created a new class of pilot. They are called Light Sport Pilots, and are not required to have a Third Class medical certificate. A current and valid driver's license will suffice. An LSA certified pilot can fly a special class of light aircraft called Light Sport Aircraft (LSA).
Follow me below the orange turbulence for a discussion of what is at stake and what you personally can do to help. No barf bags or seat belts required on this flight.
There are two distinct issues. First is the medical certificate. There has been some discussion in recent years about discarding the Third Class Medical Certificate. The FAA has turned that proposal down. A private pilot holding a Third Class Medical can do almost anything a commercial pilot can do except fly for pay. Fly at night, on instruments, and use busy airports. By comparison, Light Sport Pilots cannot fly at night or on instruments, and are limited on the types of controlled airspace they may enter.
If a pilot has ever applied for a medical certificate and was turned down for any reason, the FAA forbids that pilot from becoming a Light Sport Pilot. Ever. If a pilot does not renew the medical certificate and lets it lapse, there is no problem allowing that pilot to fly as a Sport Pilot, as long as he or she has a current and valid driver's license, issued in the US.
Light Sport Aircraft are real airplanes, but tend to be small, cramped and underpowered. The FAA has defined LSAs as simple, easily flown aircraft meeting certain limitations on weight, speed, and have only two seats. This link provides an illustration and definitions.. One thing us older pilots have learned about the LSA airplanes as they are now defined. It was a hell of a lot easier to get in and out of a Piper Cub when I was twenty-five years old than it is at my present age. Thus, part of this is about an aging population that wants to stay active, can still multitask, but the joints get creaky.
Here comes the problem. Lets say our pilot (we will call him George) has owned his own Cessna 172 since it was bought new in 1959. George keeps his plane immaculate and flies it frequently. Airplanes are not like cars, in that they really don't wear out unless neglected. George wants to get his third class medical renewed since it will expire soon, but the last time he got it renewed, it was accompanied by a certified letter telling him next renewal he must submit to a complete cardiac workup by a cardiologist, and have numerous other tests. Now George is not an idiot and he can add. He does some quick calculations, and figures out his next two year renewal is going to cost him at least six thousand dollars. Cardiologists don't come cheap and neither do neurologists. In some cases they may demand a complete psychological and neuropsychologial workup, which can add another two to five thousand dollars to the cost. Rather than be failed on his medical, he just lets it lapse, so he can use light sport pilot privileges if he decids to go that route.
We have already established that George is no idiot, and that his only crime is to be in his seventh decade of life. He is still an excellent pilot and should be able to pass the physical, but the added tests are too burdensome. He wants to continue to fly and doesn't want to sell his already paid for airplane. The FAA is, in effect, telling him he cannot fly a plane he has flown most of his life, sell it and get another one much smaller, more cramped, and has a new learning curve to face. Yet, he still has his driver's license. The government is just fine with him climbing into his 3,500 pound automobile, driving 70 miles an hour, passing within four feet of other vehicles going the opposite direction at the same speed, at closing rate of 140 miles an hour.
By comparison, George's Cessna 172 weighs 2,200 pounds, has a maximum cruising speed of about 120 miles an hour and lands at 60.
There are many different kinds of discrimination, but one of the most insidious is ageism. The FAA seems to have a problem with aging pilots, a problem that is increasingly compounded as the baby boomer generation ages. This diary is not about professional pilots and high performance aircraft. This is about the guy next door, your postman, a farmer, or maybe yourself. Sunday flyers who like to go sightseeing with the grandchildren, or take short trips on nice clear days.
HERE IS WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP:
In a nutshell, here is the issue:
The EAA and AOPA have petitioned the FAA to expand the LSA medical exemption to apply to aircraft with:Fixed gear, fixed prop, up to 180HP, up to four seats, day, flight in visual meteorological conditions (VMC) only, not for hire.
This proposal has the full support of aircraft manufacturers. General aviation is hemorrhaging pilots and there are not enough new ones being trained.
This links to a recent news release from the EAA. Some of the comments below the article are worth reading.
This links to the FAA web page where the public can comment on the proposed rule making.
Note: There is a PDF file from the AOPA and EAA on the FAA comment page containing their petition. It has detailed information about the reasoning behind the proposed change in rules, along with statistics to back it up. I strongly urge readers to look it over before commenting.
I will be in and out, so will not be able to respond to all the comments, but will do the best I can. Please help get these new, more sensible, regulations passed. The only way any government agency can be prodded to move on new rules, other than Congress passing new laws, is public pressure. If you send a comment to the FAA, please read the links first. Please copy and paste your comment to the FAA if you are comfortable doing so.