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Archives for April 2014

The 2014 GAA User Survey results, Part 2: Aviators are sick of the ‘arrogant’ Medical Unit

Typical comment: It is getting prohibitively expensive to keep up

Typical comment: It is getting prohibitively expensive to keep up

Thanks to the $300-plus medical application fee, general aviators are voting with their shrinking wallets and abandoning the Class 2 medical in favour of the Recreational Pilot’s Licence or microlighting, according to our survey of users.

But the core message they are sending to the CAA is one of continuing outrage at the authority’s seemingly invulnerable Medical Unit and its more than $2 million annual costs.

Most amusing comment: My dear wife, Margaret. She holds the purse strings

Most amusing comment: My dear wife, Margaret. She holds the purse strings

Of roughly 450 respondents, 52.49 percent held Class 1 medical certification, 31.67% Class 2, 8.6% RPL and 6.94% microlight. Of the 376 who answered the question “Have you made a change in licence application to a RPL in the last 12 months?” 5.59% said they had. But this result may be conservative, because some of those surveyed were Class 1 holders, and less likely to move to the RPL.

More significant was “If you do not already hold a RPL, are you considering changing to that licence in the next year?” Of the 360 who answered, 18% said yes, and a further 18% were undecided.

Typical comment: Going to get one just in case the CAA gets even more out of touch with reality!

Typical comment: Going to get one just in case the CAA gets even more out of touch with reality!

Of the 100 respondents who already hold a RPL, 62% said this was to protect their ability to continue flying recreationally and 48% attributed their move to RPL to the medical application fee.

The overwhelming weight of opinion in this aspect of CAA charges involved the scale of the fee and, perhaps more importantly, the widespread perception that it is “a rort” and unfairly discriminates against the over-40s.

Typical comment: Seriously considering. Enough is enough

Typical comment: Seriously considering. Enough is enough

One respondent commented: “If you’re going to charge us an amount that adds up to about three or four flying lessons, then at least make the service worthwhile.” Another said: “I will not pay the CAA fees. I obtain my Class 2 overseas and fly on an overseas licence.”

[However, this practice is not quite as straightforward as it may seem. The CAA rule on this is:

If he has a New Zealand licence issued on the basis of a current foreign licence, he can use the NZ licence on the medical used for recognition/issue. Once that expires, he needs a NZ Medical (the same as any other NZ licence holder).

If he is using a CASA or FAA licence that has been validated for use in NZ, then he is exercising the privileges of that licence and it must remain current. A foreign licence can be validated for a maximum of six months (but never longer than the current foreign medical).

One way around the problem (which some are already doing) is to have your aircraft on a foreign register (such as American registration) and then you can continue to fly it in New Zealand on a foreign medical. The catch to this is that the aircraft must be maintained by someone who has the same foreign aircraft maintenance licence.]

Typical comment: CAA fee may force this change - totally unreasonable

Typical comment: CAA fee may force this change – totally unreasonable

Of the 463 who answered the question “With regard to your interaction with the CAA Medical Unit, either personally or through your Medical Examiner, have you found them to be receptive to the advice of other specialists?” 58.1% had no experience of dealing with the Medical Unit, but of those who had, 130 – or 28% of the total – said the unit was not receptive to the advice of other specialists, and only 13.82% (64 people) thought it was.

One said: “I have found certain ‘personalities’ within the medical unit to be arrogant, threatening, unresponsive to details provided at their request, and people who would have driven any other commercial business into receivership.” Another said: “Revolting outfit to deal with” and the term “arrogant” also featured in several other comments.

Typical comment: Law unto themselves. Would never trust them to act in the pilot's interest

Typical comment: Law unto themselves. Would never trust them to act in the pilot’s interest

The vast majority (315 out of 468 who answered) condemned the principle of User Pays as it is applied by the CAA, with many saying that the requirement for medicals was mainly to protect the public and therefore the public should pay for them. One respondent said: “In the case of the GA pilot, you could argue that the ultimate beneficiary is the individual pilot, and therefore it seems right that they should pay. The most contentious issue in my eyes is the high level of the fee charged.”

Typical comment: A distorted view of "user pays" is used. This is clear abuse of a monopoly power

Typical comment: A distorted view of “user pays” is used. This is clear abuse of a monopoly power

But the strongest reaction of all was to the question: “Do you consider that there is sufficient transparency of costs incurred in the operation of the CAA Medical Unit?”

Typical comment: No way on earth, unless they are way over-staffed and incredibly inefficient, can the current costs be justified. Transparency? Yet to see it

Typical comment: No way on earth, unless they are way over-staffed and incredibly inefficient, can the current costs be justified. Transparency? Yet to see it

A surprising 88% of 468 respondents said No, with a further 9.36% (43) undecided and only 2.55% (12) saying Yes.

“$2.2 million to operate a medical unit is ridiculous. Outsource their work,” said one. “The biggest problem, however, will not so much be the transparency but the lack of desire or ability within the medical unit to find less expensive ways to conduct the unit,” said another.

An expat across the ditch commented: “In Australia, we pay $70 to the CASA medical unit (roughly). I just did my medical in New Zealand and was disgusted to see that apart from the $313 I paid the CAA and the $140 I paid my doctor, I still needed to pay an additional $75 to an assessor in Wellington as well. How many filters does the medical of a healthy 26-year-old have to go through to get approval?”

We put these findings to CAA Director Graeme Harris.

He said: “They certainly reflect a challenge for the CAA in trying to overcome what appears from the survey results to be a combination of dissatisfaction and confusion on the part of some respondents to your survey.

“The international aviation medical certification regime certainly seems to generate a lot of passion and NZ is no different to other countries in that regard. It is also apparent that quite a few people have not caught up with the changes made to the Civil Aviation Act in 2002 as a result, partly, of the Scott-Gorman report. From time to time, I still hear from people who think the highly decentralised medical certification system of the 1990s is still in place. In fact medical certification powers, and related responsibilities, have resided with the Director since the 2002 introduction of Part 2A of the Act. The exercise of those powers and the oversight of related certification and delegations are just part of providing the State Aviation Medical Certification system funded by the Medical Certificate Application fee. Unfortunately, much of this is invisible to many people. In this regard, I note that the Regulations Review Committee in its recent judgment dismissing complaints about the 2012 amendment to the Civil Aviation Charges Regulations (No.2) 1991 made the observation that the ‘wording regarding the fee for a medical certificate application could usefully be adjusted to make it clear that the fee covers a broader range of services, such as the medical certification assurance process carried out by the CAA’s medical unit, than exclusively administrative tasks’. I think this is a useful suggestion as the current description of the fee could certainly give the mistaken impression that it is just funding an administrative function.”

Pick the bones out of that, if you can, and perhaps wonder why you as “the user” should pay for a “medical certification assurance process”. Is this just obfuspeak for “checking the report”? And exactly what other services are aviators funding in this “broader range”?

Mr Harris continued:

“On some of the other medical matters raised, it is worth noting that we currently have development work under way – including ideally a move to on-line applications – that should improve the efficiency and timeliness of the certification function. Overall, however, I’m very confident that the medical decision-making of the unit is of the highest standard.

“I’m sure that there is always room for improvement but I’m also very confident that the unit is effective in protecting the public interest.”

Mr Harris did not volunteer any information on why the on-line application process (promised 18 months ago by Minister of Transport Brownlee) has apparently stalled without even a hint of any progress beyond the most basic level of project planning. Neither did he offer any other hope of cost-savings in the Medical Unit, nor any change in the application fee policy.

But at least the Director can be in no doubt about what aviators think of his authority’s behaviour in general, and the Medical Unit’s in particular.

In our survey,

♦ 31.37% of respondents said they had more than 30 years experience in aviation

♦ 16.63% declared 20 to 30 years experience

♦ 22.53% had 10 to 20 years

♦ 18.11% had five to 10 years and

♦ 11.37% had less than five years experience

♦ To download Part 2 of the survey as a PDF, click here: Survey No 1 Part 2 Med

The Class 2 medical: What is it really worth?

Our system seems to revolve around bureaucratic rear-end covering and a “not on my watch” mentality

Our system seems to revolve around bureaucratic rear-end covering and a “not on my watch” mentality

An interesting initiative is taking place in the US. In March 2012, AOPA and the EAA submitted a petition to the FAA, seeking to allow recreational private pilots to use a driver’s licence medical instead of the FAA third-class medical certification, which is similar to our CAA Class 2 medical.

It has taken almost two years to get some action on this petition but on April 2 the FAA announced that it was starting a rule-making project that “will explore whether to allow private pilots, in certain instances, to use a driver’s licence instead of a FAA medical certificate”.

Details about the rule-making project, which the FAA is labelling “Private Pilot Privileges without a Medical Certificate,” will be posted soon at the Transportation Department’s rule-making website, the FAA said.

AOPA and EAA say that for more than 10 years, sports pilots (those flying LSAs) have flown safely without a third-class medical (the FAA equivalent of our CAA PPL medical).

Predictably, the Civil Aviation Medical Association, the group that represents aviation medical examiners (AMEs) says that doing away with the third class medical is a threat to public safety. As yet, we have not seen any evidence-based data to back up their concerns regarding flight safety, but one could cynically question whether their concerns are, in reality, based on the substantially reduced income stream that their members will undoubtedly incur.

This petition, if it succeeds, opens up the possibility of recreational helicopter pilots, who at present are required to have FAA third-class medical certification, being able to operate on the equivalent of our RPL.

Another much sought outcome would be an increase in the number of passengers that may be carried by the holder of a recreational pilot licence.

It is my belief that our present pilot medical certification is “rule-based” rather than evidence-based.

Pilots generally display an analytical approach to problems they encounter. If, for example, we make a poor approach to land, the evidence is before us and then we develop a strategy so that it doesn’t happen again.

In other words, our decisions are evidence-based – but when it comes to the medical certification, we reluctantly accept that we are required to abide by rules that are not necessarily backed by hard evidence.

♦ The data that has been put forward by AOPA suggests that in the US, the FAA third-class medical has been shown to have virtually no predictive value.

♦ The equivalent of our CAA RPL was introduced into the US almost 10 years ago and in that time – despite hundreds of thousands of hours flown in LSAs – there have been zero accidents attributed to medical incapacitation. This is also the same for glider pilots, where medical certification has never been required.

♦ Our NZ CAA Medical Unit has never provided us with evidence-based statistics on the number of in-flight incapacitations in New Zealand.

♦ If there have been any accidents in New Zealand positively attributed to medical incapacitation, it would be interesting to know whether the assessments of those pilots during their previous medical provided any meaningful predictive value.

♦ If our current Class 2 pilot medical certification system has limited predictive value and is not backed up by clear and unequivocal data to prove its worth, then the LTSA DL9 commercial driver’s licence medical would seem to be an obvious alternative means of compliance.

Our present system seems to revolve around bureaucratic rear-end covering and a “not on my watch” mentality.

To sum up, Government/Regulator-imposed medical burdens on pilots need to stand up to the test of value for money and be justified on verifiable data.