The Class 2 medical: What is it really worth?

08 April 2014 / by Des Lines / Costs, Governance, Medical, Safety
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.