Could this signal the beginning of the end for PPL medicals?

08 June 2015 / by the GAA team / Consultation, Costs, Governance, Medical, Safety
One cure for painful fees: Scrap the PPL medical entirely

One cure for painful fees: Scrap the PPL medical entirely

The UK CAA is considering the removal of PPL medicals – and our CAA is keeping a close watch.

The UK authority has worked with a number of aviation medical experts to develop a consultation on medical requirements for some private pilots which aims to make them more realistic and reduce bureaucracy. (No changes are proposed for pilots with commercial licences.)

It proposes that the only medical requirement for UK private pilot licence and national private pilot licence holders will be to hold a current DVLA Group 1 Ordinary Driving Licence (ODL). Existing medical options (for example, a UK declaration with GP counter-signature) will remain available. The proposal will bring cost and time savings for pilots and, in most cases, remove the need for General Practitioner (GP) or Authorised Medical Examiner involvement.

New Zealand CAA Director Graeme Harris told the GAA: “I was aware of the UK work in this space, which we are watching carefully.

Graeme Harris: "...less convinced that we have it right for the PPL"

Graeme Harris: “…less convinced that we have it right for the PPL”

“For some time, I have been questioning what the appropriate medical certification standard is for the NZ/ICAO PPL (versus the NZ Recreational Pilot Licence and various pilot certificates administered by Part 149 Aviation Recreation Organisations). I am happy with the standard applied in the CPL/ATPL sphere because there is a reasonable element of international consistency applied (although it isn’t perfect) but am less convinced that we have it right for the PPL.

“Circumstances and societal risk tolerances change over time and in any case we should review all regulatory settings from time to time.

“We started looking at the issue formally a few months ago and currently have an ‘Issues Assessment Paper’ under development. Once completed, that paper will be considered and the outcome from that process will determine whether we proceed to a full policy project on the topic.

“While I don’t want to pre-judge the outcome of that process, I think it highly likely that we will indeed kick off a full policy project on the issue in the next financial year (starting 1 July 2015). Any such project would involve consultation with the aviation sector and broader society to get the benefit of their views and risk tolerance.”

Currently, UK pilots with an NPPL licence are required to comply with DVLA group 1 or 2 standards and have their self-declaration of fitness countersigned by their GP. Holders of a UK PPL currently need an EU class 2 medical or the NPPL medical requirements if they only use the privileges of an NPPL licence.

The proposal is based on a study of the risks associated with GA flying and comparing it to other recreational activities such as horse-riding or canoeing. The consultation also reviews the causes of light aircraft accidents and the likelihood of these being triggered by a pilot being medically incapacitated. The risk to third parties is considered and the regulatory approach taken by the Federal Aviation Administration in the USA, which mirrors the UK proposal, is also reviewed.

A variety of options are proposed and the CAA is seeking views through the consultation which closes next month. The information received will be used to determine how to take this proposal forward. You can see the consultation here.

Transfer of C of A aircraft to a permit to fly

The UK CAA has also issued guidance to formalise the existing process on how to transfer aircraft from a National Certificate of Airworthiness to a Permit to Fly. This guidance will benefit those owners who can make use of the reduced level of airworthiness assurance associated with the maintenance regimes and the potentially greater accessibility to spare parts for Permit to Fly aircraft.

GA Programme Manager Rachel Gardner said: “The new PPL syllabus, consultation on medical requirements and guidance for aircraft owners are the latest steps in our work to improve things for the GA community and make regulation of GA more proportionate and evidence-based.”

The FAA is also under pressure to relax medical standards for a PPL.

AOPA in the USA is hoping for some movement on the relaxation of third class aviation medical requirements “in the next few weeks,” according to a report recorded for AOPA Live. Jim Coon, AOPA’s senior vice president of government affairs, told the programme that medical reform remains AOPA’s top priority. “This is an issue we are working on every day,” said Coon. “We know how important it is to members and to the future of general aviation, so we will keep pursuing reform through every means available to us.” Coon said there now bills before the Senate and House to introduce the measure and it’s also possible it could be added to another bill or as part of the coming FAA reauthorisation for funding, which runs out on 30 September.

Under the proposal, no medical would be required for private pilots flying aircraft less than 6000 lbs in gross weight, VFR and IFR, with up to five passengers, at 250 knots or less. More than a year ago, the FAA drafted a proposed rule that would have been much more restrictive and the Department of Transportation has stalled that proposal. Earlier this year, AOPA decided to pursue the legislative route toward medical reform and although there has been some activity there has been no action. “We share our members’ frustration with how long it is taking to get this done, but we are not giving up,” Coon said. “In fact, we’re more determined than ever to get pilots the relief they need from this outdated and costly requirement, and we’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.”