Article: Sport pilots beware - your non-FAA medical can bite

Here's the place to ask all of your medical questions. But don't believe everything you read!

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SSDriver
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Article: Sport pilots beware - your non-FAA medical can bite

Postby SSDriver » Wed Nov 02, 2011 8:19 pm

Taken from a site I frequent.. Over the Airwaves, written by Bob Miller. His monthly newsletter is worth a read for sure. This one got my attention this month.

Website: http://www.overtheairwaves.com/

Sport pilots beware - your non-FAA medical can bite you!

Back in 2004 the FAA and industry got together and came up with a new way to help stimulate general aviation flying. Called the Sport Pilot Program, it cut in half the training requirements to pilot a two-seat airplane having a gross takeoff weight of not more than 1,320 pounds. It also eliminated the requirement to undergo an FAA medical examination.

In place of the FAA medical, the FAA left many folks with the notion that as long as they held a valid drivers license and had not been denied an FAA medical certificate in the past, they could qualify as sport pilots.

What many of us missed in the new sport pilot rule was 14CFR Part 61.303(b)(4) which says, "Not know or have reason to know of any medical condition that would make that person unable to operate a light-sport aircraft in a safe manner." This same regulatory language is found in 14CFR Part 61.53(a)(1) which addresses medical requirements to hold first, second, or third class medical certificate.

The part that bites

The word on the street for wannabe sport pilots is, don't take an FAA medical examination if you think you may not pass it. The part that bites is, if you know or have reason to believe that you cannot, in fact, pass an FAA medical, then you are NOT eligible for a Sport Pilot certificate. Thus, if you have diabetes, declining vision or hearing, a cardiac stent or pacemaker, angina, or a host of any other conditions that would deny you an FAA medical, even though you have never been denied an FAA medical and you hold a valid U.S. drivers license, you may NOT be eligible for a Sport Pilot certificate.

The fact that you KNEW you could not pass the FAA medical examination places you in the category of knowing that you have a medical condition that would make you unable to operate a light sport aircraft in a safe manner.

So who, but me, would ever know?

Like so many other FAA rules and regulations, the issue may never come up until there is an incident or accident. Let's say, for example, that sport pilot suffers a fatal accident while at the controls of his airplane. The NTSB accident investigation reveals that the pilot recently had cardiac surgery or had diabetes, or any other known condition that would have prevented him from passing an FAA medical. Such a find would have ruled his Sport Pilot certificate invalid.

With no valid Sport Pilot certificate, his insurance would likely be void. Resultant civil suits could render his family penniless. Are these reasonable risks to assume for failure to comply with the sport pilot rule?
Drew
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fredg
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Safe to fly

Postby fredg » Wed Nov 02, 2011 9:07 pm

I don't buy the premise.

In my opinion, being unable to pass an FAA medical is not equivalent to having a medical condition that would make a person unable to operate a light sport aircraft in a safe manner.

FAA accident statistics recently publicized by the EAA and AOPA show no medically-related sport pilot accidents since the sport pilot program began. Do we really think that every sport pilots flying today would pass an FAA medical?

This is the crux of the issue - actual data show that pilots without an FAA medical are flying without medically-related accidents. To me, this makes it impossible to conclude that every condition incompatible with an FAA medical automatically makes a pilot unable to operate a light sport aircraft in a safe manner.
FredG
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Postby drseti » Wed Nov 02, 2011 11:49 pm

I see this as a gray area where one would do well to tread lightly. In my own case, I realize that my cardiac arterial bypass grafts rendered my medical certificate void, even though not formally revoked. I went through all the tests the FAA requires for a Special Issuance medical, and was advised by my cardiologist that there were no indications that were likely to result in a denial. I then opted not to apply for the special, and let my medical lapse. Thus, I do not "know or have reason to know" of a disqualifying condition. If my tests had shown a problem, I wouldn't be able to make such a claim, and my position would be more tenuous. The concerns raised by Miller would then be a more major concern.
The opinions posted are those of one CFI, and do not necessarily represent the FAA or its lawyers.
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Jim Stewart
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Postby Jim Stewart » Thu Nov 03, 2011 12:37 am

Even though I fly my light sport plane with a PP license and a 3rd class medical, I agree with Paul and Fred. The fact that light sport is handled differently implicitly says that the medical requirements are lower. If the FAA desired them to be the same as PP and above, the FAA would have required a third class medical or better. If the state thinks you're fit to fly and you can honestly self-certify that you're fit to fly, you are good to go.

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Postby Jack Tyler » Thu Nov 03, 2011 5:09 am

Well...there's more subtlety to this 'no medical required' issue than Miller's reasoning. And the 'implicit' validity of flying with an unsafe medical condition and what statistics may suggest also gloss over some of its reality.

First, let's acknowledge that the SP medical requirement could have been stated (by aviation groups, the industry and the FAA) in a reverse fashion when it was introduced, it would mean the same thing and it might have created a more honest understanding of the rule's intention and the pilot's responsibility. Something like: "The requirement that a pilot is physically and mentally capable to safely operate the aircraft remains exactly the same as for the higher licenses. We will now accept the issuance of a valid Driver's License as one means of proving this condition." That's the thrust of Miller's argument, I suppose. Where he's wrong is...

We would probably all be surprised at medical conditions that are accepted by the FAA for a Third Class medical, which means there may be no certainty - for the average SP - regarding his eligibility for that medical. Can you imagine diagnosed epilepsy with gran mal seizures being acceptable? I couldn't...but it can be when successfully medically treated. SI procedures are intended to look more closely at the details of a disease or condition, so that a more informed, specific decision on medical eligibility is made. Paul's example illustrates this well: He had a major, disqualifying condition (which he may not have been aware of for years), and after recovery he medically re-qualified for PPL privileges. Most of us probably think that high blood pressure, DUI convictions and MS would all be disqualifying, yet I've seen first-hand reports from active pilots recently who have each of these conditions & hold valid medicals. Miller presumes that we would all know whether we would qualify or not. Yet the reality is that some of us may be medically unsafe to fly but don't know it while others might suspect they would be judged medically unsafe when that's untrue.

A Third Class Medical only validates your medical fitness for flight before you solo and then every 730th day (or even more) thereafter. As infrequent as that is, a driver's license is almost no measure of medical fitness. As an example, my last driver's license was issued to me in person - along with a vision test - 25 years ago. Since then, renewal has been done on-line or on a walk-in basis to a cashier & with no vision test. Holding a valid driver's license essentially means my driving has not been so extraordinarily unsafe (multiple DUI's, chronic accident history) that the state hasn't taken it away from me. Holding this license doesn't say much for my physical and mental fitness...which of course is part of Miller's point.

Lots of grey here, whereas rules have to be written in black & white. And loss of insurance coverage is probably not going to be relevant in most cases, unless one failed a sobriety test after an incident or accident or the SP was notoriously big-mouthed about his/her condition and the adjuster picked up on it when visiting the field.

In a practical sense, I think the 'Driver's License Medical' is actually a waiver for any medical qualifications beyond the judgement applied to one's own medical fitness for flight. But that's just not a position the FAA can comfortably accept or defend.
Jack
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The Whole Premise

Postby bryancobb » Thu Nov 03, 2011 9:27 am

My belief is that the "if your state's DMV feels you are medically fit to have a driver's license, then you are healthy enough to fly as a Sport Pilot" concept was a fundamental tenet of the Reg.

It never was intended to put a sport pilot, who has almost zero aeromedical topics covered in their training, into a position of evaluating their own fitness for flight.

The 50 DMV's in the US screen drivers for vision, seizures, and other problems that endanger others on the roadways. These folks are the ones the FAA was trying to keep out of the cockpit. Not someone who wears a colostomy or has had a heart transplant. If there were a disproportionate amount of vehicle accidents happening because of drivers' health, then public outcry would cause the DMV's to take action and look at people's health closer. It seems to be adequately scrutinized for driving and SPORT FLYING.
Bryan Cobb
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Cartersville, Ga
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Postby drseti » Thu Nov 03, 2011 10:08 am

Although I agree in principle with what Bryan is saying, it does suggest a flaw in the rules, with respect to a lack of standardization of driving standards among states. A quarter century ago, my late grandmother (then in her late 80s and totally blind) received in the mail from the State of Florida a renewed driver's license. Fortunately, she didn't try to drive (although she did enjoy flying with me), and I imagine the laws in that state have changed by now, perhaps even requiring vision tests for drivers license renewals. But lacking standardization between states, we have no assurance that they screen medical fitness equally.
While I am all for the drivers license medical, I also favor federal control of driving standards. I know the States Rights advocates will bristle at this, and there are good arguments against increasing the power and reach of federal bureaucracies. But if it is inappropriate for each state to set its own licensing standards for pilots, then I feel the same applies to drivers.
I am old enough to remember when each state had its own highway rules, and they were not consistent. Somewhere along the line, right turn on red after coming to a full stop became the national standard, along with driving on the right side of the road, wearing seatbelts, etc. We're not fully there yet, as some states still permit cellphoning and texting while driving -- but NHTSA is working on that. I understand the principle of reserving some powers to the states, but am not sure drivers licensing standards should be one of those, any more than pilot licensing standards should be. So, I feel states need to adopt a common set of medical standards, and that probably won't happen without a federal mandate. When it does, the drivers license medical for sport pilots (and perhaps others) will make more sense and gain more traction.
The opinions posted are those of one CFI, and do not necessarily represent the FAA or its lawyers.
Prof H Paul Shuch
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Paul

Postby bryancobb » Thu Nov 03, 2011 10:49 am

Paul,

I am of the belief that because of the limited privileges granted to Sport Pilots, only people with the most severely limiting medical issues should be kept on the ground. Who gives a flip if all 50 states issue driver's licenses based on uniform criteria? If a guy lives in Georgia, can't get a drivers license because of a medical issue, and wants to fly,...and if he chooses to move to South Carolina because their standards are lower, that's called FREEDOM.

I hate rules and bureaucracy. This is one area where the FAA has avoided unnecessary rules and has been VERY clear, in my opinion. A licensed driver is LEGAL medically, to fly under Sport rules, period. No matter what their condition.

I don't think we have a problem where medically unfit sport pilots are taking to the skies and endangering others.

THIS ASPECT OF THE SPORT REG'S AIN'T BROKE. WE SHOULDN'T TRY TO FIX IT.
Bryan Cobb

Sport Pilot CFI

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Commercial Rotorcraft Helicopter

Cartersville, Ga

bryandcobb@att.net

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Re: Paul

Postby drseti » Thu Nov 03, 2011 11:27 am

bryancobb wrote:I don't think we have a problem where medically unfit sport pilots are taking to the skies and endangering others.


Thankfully, that is indeed the case so far. Let's hope it stays that way! :D
The opinions posted are those of one CFI, and do not necessarily represent the FAA or its lawyers.
Prof H Paul Shuch
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AvSport LLC, KLHV
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Postby 3Dreaming » Thu Nov 03, 2011 11:39 am

Most of the items he mentions can get a special issue medical, so I think there is nothing to worry about. I think the way the reg was written was to protect the FAA from legal action. Imagine writing a reg that says people are OK to fly on a DL that the FAA has already said they could not issue a medical to.

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Postby JimNtexas » Thu Nov 03, 2011 12:45 pm

I haven't heard of an LSA or Glider pilot dying at the controls.

Does that happen often?

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Postby drseti » Thu Nov 03, 2011 12:51 pm

JimNtexas wrote:I haven't heard of an LSA or Glider pilot dying at the controls.

Does that happen often?


Occasionally, but not for medical reasons. :wink:
The opinions posted are those of one CFI, and do not necessarily represent the FAA or its lawyers.
Prof H Paul Shuch
PhD CFII DPE LSRM-A/GL/WS/PPC iRMT
AvSport LLC, KLHV
fly@AvSport.org
AvSport.org
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oldsportpilot
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sport pilot medical self certification

Postby oldsportpilot » Thu Nov 03, 2011 9:49 pm

Check out http://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificate ... response4/

It clearly states that "You should consult your private physician to determine whether you have a medical deficiency that would interfere with the safe performance of sport piloting duties." So it is up to you and your doctor.

The gray area here is the word "should" rather than using "must". Who are we as laymen to say whether we are safe to be sport pilots? Consultation with your doctor seems like a MUST to me, not for the FAA, but to protect your own life and the lives of others.

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Should

Postby bryancobb » Fri Nov 04, 2011 5:21 am

To me, the fact that the FAA consciously chose to use the word "should" shows that they are comfortable with the DMV's determining who can and cannot fly.
They are implying that it would be prudent, if a layperson has any doubt about their medical fitness to fly, then go see a Dr.

Remember, one of the MAIN reasons for the birth of the Sport Pilot program was to allow folks who had lost their medical or couldn't or hadn't got one, to keep enjoying flying, (with limitations of course).
Bryan Cobb

Sport Pilot CFI

Commercial/Instrument Airplane

Commercial Rotorcraft Helicopter

Cartersville, Ga

bryandcobb@att.net

rsteele
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Postby rsteele » Fri Nov 04, 2011 11:48 am

You could almost combine this thread with the one regarding sport pilot being cheaper. I'm pretty sure I could get a medical. I'm also pretty sure it would cost me many thousands of dollars to jump through all the hoops to do so. So this is one way SP really does save money.

I really wish that EAA/AOPA approach wasn't aimed at getting rid of the 3rd class medical for some cases, but rather to make it more of a "note from the doctor" medical. Get rid of the expense and hyper-vigilance and replace it with some basic common sense about who is healthy enough to fly.

Ron


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