NTSB ‘Concerned’ About Proposal to End Medical Certification for Pilots
Posted at 5:16 p.m. on July 31, 2014
The acting head of the National Transportation Safety Board voiced doubts in House testimony Thursday about a proposed bill that would end the Federal Aviation Administration’s medical certification requirement for many general aviation pilots.
NTSB Acting Chairman Christopher Hart stopped short of explicitly opposing a bill sponsored by Reps. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., and Sam Graves, R-Mo., that would end the FAA’s Third Class medical certification process for pilots whose aircraft carries up to five passengers.
But at a hearing of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, Hart said, “We’re very concerned about pilots flying without adequate medical standards.”
He explained that “we base our policy based on what we see in accidents and so far we haven’t seen enough accidents to warrant an agency position on it. But we are very concerned about [pilots] not only not having to have a medical, but then in addition to that, if you don’t have a medical, you’re less likely to pay attention to the FAA’s list of prohibited drugs” as well as illegal drugs.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., urged Hart to have the NTSB take a position on the bill and said, “I cannot believe that that [Rokita-Graves legislation] could come to any good.”
Ending the FAA certification requirement is a top priority for the general aviation pilots group, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
“We’re laser focused on this,” AOPA president Mark Baker told the aviation enthusiasts meeting EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis., Tuesday.
Jim Coon, AOPA’s senior vice president of government affairs and advocacy, said FAA administrator Michael Huerta made some encouraging comments about possible FAA action when he spoke to the Oshkosh gathering Thursday.
FAA rules already allow recreational pilots to fly one- and two-seat light aircraft without a third class medical certificate.
While urging the FAA to act, AOPA has also asked Congress to pass the Rokita-Graves bill.
Graves has said that the FAA medical certification process is “nothing more than a bureaucratic hoop to jump through. It discourages new pilots and does not truly improve safety.”
Separately, NTSB chief Hart announced at Thursday’s hearing that his agency is examining trends in the prevalence of over-the-counter, prescription, and illicit drugs identified by toxicology testing of fatally injured airmen between 1990 and 2012.
“In general aviation, our investigators sometimes see evidence of drug use by pilots involved in accidents. So we decided it was time to look at this issue more in depth,” he said.
The NTSB plans to hold a public meeting in September to consider this study and issue potential recommendations.