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Airman 3rd Class Medical Reform

AOPA, EAA and other organizations have been pushing the FAA for the past several years to provide an exemption to the requirement for pilots flying under part 91 under certain conditions  to hold a valid FAA – issued pilot third-class medical certificate. This pilot medical reform has now become law, as of July 15, 2016. The new medical requirements posted by the FAA are referred to as “BasicMed”. The new BasicMed program becomes effective May 1, 2017.

The pilots who will be able to take advantage of this change would be required to get a one-time medical certificate unless they have obtained a pilot medical certificate since July 15, 2006.  Pilots would still be required to visit a doctor every 4 years, but this exam can be given by any state-licensed physician. During this visit, you would need to bring an FAA form and it must be filled out and signed by you and the doctor. A notation must be made in your pilot logbook referencing this doctor visit and the form should be kept in your logbook as well. You must also take a free online training course in aeromedical factors every 2 years. There are some additional conditions in this law. For more details, visit the AOPA Pilot Medical Reform FAQs page.

This law has become more controversial  following the German Wings crash involving a suicidal co-pilot who falsified his medical information and ignored his doctor’s orders not to fly. Of course this scenario involves an airline operation with a commercial crew, which is very different from the type of flying and pilot qualifications that would be included in this proposal. I thought I would list a few pros and cons on this proposed regulation change as food for thought and see what those of you who have a vested interest in this have to say.

Here is a summary of some of the key points contained in the new law:

  1. Pilot must hold a valid driver’s license
  2. The new privileges apply to VFR, IFR, day and night flight.
  3. No flight outside the U.S except with permission from the destination country
  4. No flight for hire or piloting for hire
  5. Pilot must complete a free, online FAA aeromedical course within the previous 24 calendar months
  6. Airplane – max 6 seats, max takeoff weight 6,000 lbs. Max 5 passengers carried
  7. Max altitude – below 18,000′ MSL (full-time supplemental O2 requirement)
  8. 250 knots maximum indicated airspeed

Here are some of the pros:

  1. From my experience with one of my students who has flown safely for the last several years – He had a kidney stone 10 years ago. He was treated successfully by his doctor who stated that the stone was completely gone and there were no further problems. My student reported this on his medical form each time. After 10 years, the FAA suddenly decided they wanted more documentation and they withheld the renewal of his medical. My student immediately submitted detailed reports from his doctor and the FAA didn’t get to his file for 8 months. Except for a few dual flights, his Cirrus SR22 Turbo sat in the hangar. After a quick review 8 months later, the FAA immediately issued the certificate and indicated it was not an issue. If my student was flying under the new reforms, he would not have had to endure this ridiculous delay.
  2. The reduction in medical certificates to process by the FAA would free up the FAA a little to work on the special medical cases and speed up the process of catching up.
  3. This will save some pilots the cost and time in taking the medical exam so often.
  4. Pilots will have the convenience of visiting their personal physician every 4 years instead of an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME)
  5. An exemption already exists for Sport Pilots and there has so far been no pattern of problems with it.

Here are some of the cons:

  1. Some passengers may be put at risk with a pilot not diagnosed in a timely fashion with a medical problem that he or she is unaware exists.
  2. From a money standpoint – some Sport Pilot Training centers may lose future students to Private Pilot schools as the relaxed medical rules are a big draw for Sport Pilots.
  3. Aviation Medical Examiners who give a lot of third class medical exams will lose some business – not a problem for pilots.
  4. Some pilots using illegal drugs may go undetected for a longer period of time.

Let me know what you think about this. Post updated 01-24-2017.   Steve Shaner



  • Medical self-certification is part of being a glider pilot. 61.3 (c) vii exempts glider pilots, period.
    (vii) Is holding a pilot certificate or a flight instructor certificate with a glider category rating, and is piloting or providing training in a glider, as appropriate;
    However, this does not mean that I can feel like I am about to faint, nor does it mean that I can fly if I have problems controlling my blood sugar, or have problems that are generally excluded from flight if they are not highly controlled.
    Public Health factors control pilot medical certificates…if a pilot’s health may put someone else in jeopardy, the argument is that an agency should control what the pilot can and cannot do.
    Private health factors simply address the well-being of an individual person, and is the sort of advice the average doctor gives a patient.
    Medical certificates should be issued for any commercial or airline pilot activity. Medical certificates are not really that necessary for any aircraft this side of 200 knots and under 10,000 feet, because between medical certification, the pilot is self-certifying.
    I have a mechanical aortic valve, and I am in great health for the most part except that and a minor neck problem. A minor, tiny amount of blood pooling occurs in my feet that not even cardiologists worry about now. I am doing my best to maintain blood thinner medication balanced with its antidote, Vitamin K, in predictable amounts. Vitamin K (which is highly variable even in the same plants grown in the same field and harvested at slightly different times, is actually produced in the digestive tract).
    I abide by the rules of the FAA to the T. However, some of the medical issues I deal with are very predictable, and I have been granted a physical up until about 2010 and never denied to my knowledge. I recently was given electric shock to bring me out of atrial fibrillation, and am doing well. I am within bounds of blood thinner testing, with an INR between 2.5 and 3.5 as required by the FAA. I can only be approved for any class of medical certificate for six months at a time because of my mechanical aortic valve installed 12/17/2002. Yet I can fly a glider with no medical at all, provided I feel well. I do. I do not drink, smoke, chew, nor hang with those who do for long. My eyes are good, and I would be pleased to earn my first class airman’s medical again, but in the meantime, I would like to fly an ASH-30 Mi (see then choose the English flag for that language!
    Also check out the basic trainer

    • I would like to say that I have not flown since 2011 in any capacity, not even as a passenger. My opinion is that general aviation pilots should, for the most part, be allowed to fly basic aircraft without a medical, and gliders or balloons should never require a medical even for commercial purposes. Yet pilots should always consider others when making medical decisions. Medical decisions should be made with friends who have permission to tell you NO. Notice, I have not flown in years, but believe I am healthy enough to fly a glider today. Tomorrow, that can change for any of us. All pilots DO self-certify between medical certificate issuance dates.

  • kam wan says:

    Invaluable blog post ! Coincidentally , others want a FAA 8710-1 , my husband came across a template version here

  • Francis K. Le says:

    Your article under the “Pro”: section is not accurate. The FAA would not have suspended your student’s medical but simply was asking for more information, and he would have been given 60 days to simply go to his MD and forward his physician’s letter to the FAA. Although your student did not have recurrence of kidney stone(s) in 10 years, he has demonstrated that physiologically, he had the propensity to form kidney stone. A check up with basic labs in 10 years is already too long an interval. Some people, like myself, would not ever go to an MD due to lack of motivation or time. Kidney stones can be devastating to your health and it is to your student’s benefit that an MD from the FAA was overlooking his medical records.
    It’s crazy to think that that was a detriment to your student.
    The Medical Doctors at the FAA want to keep the pilots flying. Many of them are pilots themselves.

  • Steve Shaner says:

    Thank you for your comment Francis. I did not indicate that the FAA suspended my student’s medical. Instead, when my student went to his AME with the FAA medical form completed online to renew his medical certificate, his AME was immediately directed by the FAA in Oklahoma City to deny issuance of a new medical to my student until the FAA could review the original documents from 10 years earlier. My student’s medical was expiring that month. He immediately sent copies of the original documents to the FAA. The FAA didn’t get to my student’s file until 8 months later. During that time, the FAA in effect was denying the issuance of a medical certificate and therefore PIC privileges to him. When the FAA finally looked at his file, they immediately issued him a new medical with no further comment. Steve Shaner

  • Jerome W. Kline says:

    I held an FAA Class II along with my Commercial
    Pilots cert. for 25 yrs. until a 60% arterial blockage was found in artery to my heart which
    gave me a CAD reduction to spec issuence class
    III FAA medical. After several yrs, I had an AME apply for a class II. Dr. Lieberman, FAA Dir. in
    OKC actually lost my application, An after a call for help to the AOPA it was found on a desk in their office, waiting to hear from me as
    to tell them “Did I want a II OR A III CLASS.”
    And they would have an outsoursed cardiologist make that decision.
    Meanwhile, I waited and waited for their reply.
    Then by letter, the FAA said ONE More test!
    A heart cath, which would be my out of pocket about $22,000! Mean while my Class III expired! By another letter, the FAA said I was to give up my expired class III, and mail it in to
    the local, ATL Regional office.
    FAA’s fault in their timely delay of any notification.
    Now I’m applying again under the PBR.

    • Steve Shaner says:

      Thank you Jerome for sharing your experience. One of the greatest fears among pilots is to lose their medical certification to fly. This is especially true if flying is a pilot’s livelihood. I am sorry to hear of your frustrating difficulties in getting medical approval. I am glad that you turned to AOPA as they can sometimes be very helpful. I hope that you can eventually get FAA medical certification to fly and return to the skies as pilot in command! Steve Shaner

  • says:

    We learned that, nearly across the board, medical reform should have no negative impacts on insurance coverage.

    • Steve Shaner says:

      That is correct. The aviation insurance underwriters so far seem to be accepting the Basic Med program in their pilot coverage. One problem that has surfaced in the Basic Med involves some of the physicians pilots are going to for their medical exams. I am hearing some reports from clients that their primary care doctors are balking at signing any FAA medical exam forms as they are uncertain about liability issues. We will see how this plays out as the medical community becomes more educated on this. Steve Shaner

  • Kylie Dotts says:

    It’s interesting how you said that this change will help make it so many pilots won’t have to have so many aviation medical exams. My husband has always talked about learning how to fly a plane but he hasn’t ever done it because of the cost it would take. Knowing that things are a little bit easier now maybe he’ll actually go and do it!

    • Steve Shaner says:

      Thank you for your comment Kylie. In Atlanta, I see 3rd class airmen medical exam fees range from $125 to $180. Under the traditional program, if your husband hasn’t reached the age of 40, he would have to take a 3rd class airman medical exam once every 4 years. If your husband is over age 40, he would need to take the airmen medical exam once every 2 years. After the first airmen medical exam, he could change to the Basic Med plan and take a medical exam with his own physician only once every 4 years. He would have to take a free online pilot medical standards course once every 2 years. I haven’t heard what private physicians are charging for the Basic Med exam. Some costs on special medical tests may be reduced if they aren’t required by the physician. The medical exam cost reduction is a drop in the bucket compared to the total cost of a Private Pilot course, but every little bit helps.

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