There is a lot more to it than a driver’s license…
Was 05/01/2017 a day that changed the life of a lot of pilots or was it just another Monday down on the farm?
The first attempt to do away with aeromedical certification for pilots started about 70 years ago and the beginning of BasicMed on 05/01 seems to be all the progress that was possible on this sticky subject over all these many years.
As soon as it was available, I took the FAA-approved medical self-assessment course for BasicMed and it didn’t really come across as a course. It is quite basic, almost childish in spots, and I didn’t actually realize that I had taken a course until I got to the test, which I took and passed. That took maybe 30 minutes and is no big deal nor is it educational for anyone who has been paying attention over a flying career, no matter how short.
After doing that, I read about the other things that I had to do to fly under BasicMed and I had the overwhelming feeling that if I were doing this for real I would just go get an FAA medical because that would be less trouble. BasicMed involves not only the course, it requires a physical by a physician who has read the FAA guidelines and is willing to certify that he is not aware of any medical condition that, as presently treated, would interfere with your ability to safely operate an airplane.
The BasicMed physical has to be taken every 48 months which is a definite improvement over the present requirement. The course also has to be repeated every 24 months.
Is the excitement about this because a lot of pilots who might not be able to pass a 3rd Class feel like they can now fly? I hope not. The 3rd Class requirements are not stringent and few applicants flunk. Some say that is because pilots who might flunk do not go for the medical. Will that be any different with BasicMed? The disqualifying conditions are the same and for either you have to go to a licensed physician. If there is still such a thing as a personal physician, would one give you a pass on something that would cause a denial by an FAA Aviation Medical Examiner?
Further, would a physician with no knowledge of flying be willing to sign an official FAA form that says you are fit to fly? With all the CYA stuff in the medical business today, caused by fear of liability, I don’t think too many doctors will want to sign those forms. Might a doctor with no knowledge of private flying really feel qualified to certify that there is no medical reason you can’t safely fly an airplane?
Actually, a BasicMed physical exam could prove to be more difficult to pass than one given by an FAA AME. I’ll use blood pressure as an example. If you get yours taken by a local doctor he is probably all over your case if the big number is over 120 or 125. It qualifies as hypertension if over 140. The FAA made noise about this a while back, proposing one of those low numbers as a maximum, but then they backed off and specified no limit but I heard that the guideline to AMEs was to not pass the applicant if the big number was over 155. Would your doc sign the paper if you were 15 points into hypertension? I guess the good news is that with BasicMed you can keep trying until you find a doc who will certify you.
It strikes me that one bureaucratic process has just become an alternative to another bureaucratic process and that it may or not be simpler or less expensive. It in no way appears to be less restrictive when it comes to the human condition. BasicMed sure doesn’t eliminate anything. All it does is remove the AME from the picture.
If you recall, it was originally proposed that a driver’s license could substitute for a 3rd Class medical. That is what happened if you just want to fly Light Sport airplanes.
Maybe what complicated BasicMed is that it upped the ante on airplanes to six seats at or below 18,000 feet at indicated airspeeds up to 250 knots, VFR or IFR. I think what pilots envisioned was being able to fly a 172, or maybe a 182, using a driver’s license as a medical. Certainly there is a huge difference between a two-place airplane that weighs 1,320 pounds fully loaded (Light Sport) and the airplanes covered by BasicMed.
I think a lot of pilots felt like they wanted medical reform to get the FAA out of their lives, at least in this regard. I don’t know that BasicMed really does this. Personally I think a far better deal would have been to up the weight on Light Sport to 2,500 or 3,000 pounds, have a speed restriction that would allow most of the four-place fixed-gear singles to qualify, and go from there. Extending the duration of a 3rd Class to 48 months might have been a goal as well.
It has often been said that we self-certify that we are fit to fly every time we fly unless we happen to go flying the day we get a physical. That was as true before 05/01 as after.
I much prefer optimism but I just don’t think 05/01/2017 was a day that substantially changed things for pilots or that will even start to rejuvenate private aviation, though I wish mightily that it would.
What do you think?