I'm not sure we're building a true understanding about the main issues of this thread by just exclaiming our individual opinions, one after the other. Opinions are like noses, we all get to have one...but then what? Perhaps between us we should be digging into the data a bit and sharing it so that we can move closer to a unified understanding of the issues.
Let's pick the issue of the 3rd Class medical and whether it is choking off interest in General Aviation. I've heard this claimed before but usually by old guys like me who are already pilots. There has always been a winnowing of the pilot population driven by age-related diseases and infirmities, but this alone can't be considered a new 'trend' insofar as what's changing pilot demographics. I think there are several specific pieces of data that at least hint at the influence - or lack of it - of the 3rd class medical requirement on the trending health of general aviation.
It seems to me the best single data point that indicates whether a 3rd class medical inhibits prospective pilots from entering training & seeking a license lies with the student pilot population. This is the group that is first introduced to the requirement, and it's a mandatory hoop thru which every student pilot must jump (and of course pay for). IME non-pilots are generally clueless about even the existence of a 3rd class medical, let alone the details of it - cost, renewal requirements, etc. (In the absence of data, I can't ascribe any particular influence the medical exam has - or has ever had - to men & women making the decision to begin flight training. Anecdotally, I can say it wasn't a burning issue back when pilot demographics and aircraft manufacturing were both healthier).
So what does the data say about the influence of a 3rd class medical on the newest pilot population? Looking at AOPA stats, the most recent year-to-year comparison shows that private pilot certificate issuances for 2010 dropped by 25% over 2009. (Boy, is that a sobering number!) During this same period, student pilot certificate issuances were up
by 2% - a 27% difference. (http://www.aopa.org/whatsnew/trend.html
) IOW while the rate of successful completion of pilot training dropped significantly during that period, the medical requirement for a student pilot to reach the point of soloing (by which point the medical is required) doesn't seem to have any relative influence. This is just one glimpse of the whole story, of course, but it certainly doesn't validate the notion that today's student pilot, when times are tough and the new pilot population as a whole is dropping, is inhibited specifically by the 3rd class medical.
So this is only one slice of the pie. If we look at it from a different perspective, let's ask to what extent the elimination of the medical invites folks to begin pilot training who might otherwise have negatively reacted to the medical requirement? IOW do the flood gates open if we eliminate the 3rd class medical? ( I wish I had more current data for what follows; maybe someone else can bring newer data to the discussion). Here's one glimpse at how data answers that question. The Sport Pilot license was finalized and enacted during 2004 and, in the next 4+ years (thru all of 2008), a total of 2600 SP licenses were issued, to folks from age 17 on up. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilot_cert ... ted_States
) For perspective, let's compare that to the 85,000+/- Private Pilot certificates that were issued over that same block of time. (See the first cite above). IOW perhaps 3% of all potential student pilots were attracted to the SP license and its 'no medical' provision. Where is the rush to avoid the 3rd class medical?
The drop in general aviation activity and in the pilot population has been going on for at least 3, almost 4 decades now...and for a fairly complex set of reasons. Let's remember that in the 80's there were 800,000+ certificated pilots; by 2008 that had dropped to 600,000+. Counting those who were coming into GA alongside those that were leaving, about 25% of the pilot population went away over the past 30+ years. This is a huge number and, not surprisingly, there are some very large factors influencing this, including demographics (most WWII & Korean War pilots were leaving GA during this period), regulatory changes (as airspace became far more complex and busier), and technology (which brought its own complexity, regulation and increased costs). There were also a lot of lifestyle, cost and other more individual factors weighing in, e.g. the huge increase in workplace productivity over the past two decades has come at the expense of the worker's free time. Fold in no real income growth over all of the last decade and a continuing climb in single parent families (single parent: the toughest job in America) and it's pretty easy to see how these societal factors ripple across all leisure time pursuits. When I look at these comprehensive changes in our society, I find it pretty difficult to accept that the medical exam by itself has had or is having any significant influence on the health of GA. Of course, for those who want
to believe it does, perhaps because it does to them, my own view is irrelevant. But the data is the data and, from what I briefly looked at today, I just don't see it supporting that belief, however firmly held it might be.
Rebuttals are welcome, of course. There's surely more data to consider than what I've offered. (E.g. can someone find data on how many inactive PPL pilots became active again post-2004 vs. what those numbers were pre-2004?) But please: If you want to challenge my conclusion, show me the beef! Let's not just have a discussion about noses... <g>
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