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Editorial: New Third Class Medical Provisions

By Ed Downs

It is now official, as of May 1, 2017, the FAR’s will contain provisions that allow an individual to exercise the privileges of a private pilot without the need for a third class medical certificate. But, let me quickly add, there are a number of conditions and caveats in the new rule. Those looking for specific details must review the “Final Rule,”, and Advisory Circular 68-1, Circular/AC_68-1.pdf. These two fun-filled documents total 112 pages of legal language that needs to be read several times in order to get a full grasp on what is going on.

It had been the intent of this writer to summarize this final ruling, but space will simply not allow this. Instead, allow the opinions of this writer to set the stage and then take a look at the FAQ’s that are included directly from Advisory Circular 68-1. This is probably the fastest way to get some idea of what this ruling entails.

But first, a small dose of history. Why do we care about dropping the third class medical? Simply stated, the third class medical certificate has become a major cost factor and obstacle for those currently involved in recreational flying and for those who would like to start flying. Policies of the FAA Medical Division have moved far away from the original intent to ensure that we have reasonably healthy pilots. It has become an overwhelming intent of the bureaucracy to maintain jurisdictional power and self-preservation.

While it is certainly reasonable to have rules that try to ensure that pilots with health issues, which can affect flight safety do not endanger passengers or persons on the ground, we do not need the huge expense and complexity of the current FAA medical structure. The main point to remember is that medical issues that affect the pilot’s ability to fly the plane are not even a “nit” in safety statistics and never have been.  There has never been a statistical reason for having a medical certificate for recreational and amateur pilots.

There were no Federal medical standards for pilots from the Wrights’ first flight until 1926. The Department of Commerce did pick up some responsibilities in 1927 for professional pilots, as did the U.S. Postal Service (airmail pilots). In many instances, a pilot certificate could be issued by a state with no federal intervention. Civil aviation was fully federalized in 1938, with creation of the Civil Aeronautics Authority, (CAA) the direct predecessor of the FAA, created in 1958. However, medical standards for civil pilots came into play in late 1938, with the creation of the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP).

This was a grant program designed to help pull the private aviation industry out of the doldrums of the Great Depression, but it had a dark secret. While sold to Congress by the Roosevelt Administration as a boost to civil industry, it was actually designed to train pilots for the upcoming war that loomed on the horizon. As such, medical standards were included, primarily to identify those who would later be drafted into military service. The plan worked, but the medical standards designed for military service became entrenched in civil aviation, to include recreational flying. Once in place, they have never been withdrawn. 


Now we jump forward to 2012, when Congress decided that it needed to put a lid on the draconian enforcement practices of the FAA. The Pilot’s Bill of Rights, passed in Aug. 2012, required the FAA to stop unilateral enforcement actions and required the FAA to use the same practices of due process that are afforded a jerk who robs a convenience store. The FAA implemented normal legal practices but did not pursue an action in a reasonable time, meaning pilots accused of an infraction might have the threat of action hanging over their heads for years. Along came the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2, which corrected this problem and sought to do away with the obsolete and very costly process of the third class medical. 

Regretfully, the Executive Office made it very clear that the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 would not be signed if any part of the FAA bureaucracy ended up without a job, even if the job was obsolete. Federal employee unions won the day, and Congress wrote a compromise to the “ending of the third class medical battle” that would help get rid of this obsolete “boat anchor” while maintaining a useless bureaucracy. Yep, only our politicians could figure out how to make this happen. The result is the Final Rule, to be enacted on May 1, 2017. I think the FAQs will answer some of your questions, and this writer will follow this rule closely with more details in continuing issues of In Flight USA.  It is the intent of this writer to utilize the new provisions, so stay tuned for a firsthand account.



Q: How did the FAA come up with these BasicMed requirements?

A: The FAA did not develop these requirements. The requirements are from the U.S. Congress, which enacted the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 (PL 114-190) (FESSA) on July 15, 2016. Section 2307 of FESSA, Medical Certification of Certain Small Aircraft Pilots, directed the FAA to “issue or revise regulations to ensure that an individual may operate as pilot in command of a covered aircraft” if the pilot and aircraft meet certain prescribed conditions as outlined in FESSA.

Q: Is there a grace period for meeting BasicMed?

A: You can operate a covered aircraft either with a medical certificate or by using BasicMed privileges. If you don’t meet all of the BasicMed requirements, then you must hold an FAA medical certificate.

Q: Does BasicMed affect sport pilots?

A: No. If you are exercising sport pilot privileges in an aircraft that meets the definition of a light-sport aircraft, then you may continue to operate using either a driver’s license or an FAA medical certificate. BasicMed privileges are not intended to be exercised by Sport Pilots.

Q: What documents do I need to carry to exercise BasicMed?

A: Only a valid driver’s license (in addition to the other required documents not identified under BasicMed such as your pilot certificate and photo ID (which can be your driver’s license)).

Q: What documentation do I need to keep?

A: You only need to keep a copy of your Comprehensive Medical Examination Checklist and your medical education course completion certificate. You can store these in your logbook, or you can store them electronically in any format, as long as you can produce an accurate representation of these documents at the request of the FAA. You don’t have to carry these documents while flying under BasicMed.

Q: Can I exercise my CFI, as PIC, under BasicMed?

A: Yes, as long as you are flying a covered aircraft.

Q: Can I use BasicMed to act as a safety pilot, rather than holding a medical?

A: Only if you’re acting as PIC while performing the duties of safety pilot. BasicMed applies only to people acting as PIC; it cannot be exercised by safety pilots who are not acting as PIC but are required crewmembers.

Q: Do I still have to have a flight review required by § 61.56?

A: Yes. BasicMed does not affect any pilot requirement other than the holding an FAA medical certificate.

Q: I’ve mislaid my BasicMed course completion certificate. Can I still fly under BasicMed?

A: No. Although they don’t need to have them in your personal possession, you must be able to produce the BasicMed course completion certificate and the completed CMEC (or an accurate and legible representation of those documents) while operating under BasicMed. You should contact the provider of the medical course to obtain a replacement course completion certificate.

Q: Can I tow advertising banners or gliders while exercising BasicMed?

A: Yes, as long as you are not receiving any compensation for those flights.

Q: Can I use BasicMed privileges to take an Airline Transport Pilot practical test?

A: Yes. A person taking any FAA practical test is exercising no more than private pilot privileges because the operation is not being conducted for compensation or hire.

Q: I use an electronic pilot logbook. Can I use this to store my BasicMed documentation?

A: You can attach those documents to your electronic logbook, or you may store them in any other fashion as long as an accurate and legible representation of those documents can be made available upon request, the same as for your pilot logbook.

Q: The medical course required that I enter my personal information and the name and license number of the physician who conducted my individual medical examination. Why is the FAA collecting this information?

A: The legislation (FESSA) requires the FAA to collect that information. The pilot’s personal information will be used to conduct the NDR check. The FAA will store the information. It is required by FESSA to collect in the airman’s record.

Hold, or Have Held, a Medical Certificate Since July 15, 2006

Q: I can’t remember if my medical certificate was valid after July 15, 2006. How can I find out if I meet the BasicMed requirements?

A: You may contact Federal Aviation Administration, Medical Certification Branch, AAM-331, P.O. Box 26200, Oklahoma City, OK 73125-9914 (phone: 405/954-4821) to ask when your most recent medical certificate expires or to request a copy of your most recent medical certificate.

Q: Can I exercise BasicMed and hold a medical certificate at the same time?

A: Yes. If you are operating under BasicMed, then you must comply with the BasicMed operating limitations (such as flying only within the U.S. and at or less than 250 knots). When operating under BasicMed, you are not exercising the privileges of your medical certificate.

Q: My medical certificate expired in 2011 and I submitted an application for an FAA medical certificate using MedExpress, but I never went to an AME for my physical exam. Does this application prevent me from using the previous medical certificate to meet the requirement to hold a medical certificate at any point after July 15, 2006?

A: No. Since an AME never accessed your application, you didn’t complete the application process, and you may use the previous medical certificate (before you submitted your MedXpress application) to comply with BasicMed.

Q: My most recent medical certificate was suspended by the FAA and then later reinstated. May I operate under BasicMed?

A: No. If your most recent medical certificate was suspended (even if it was later reinstated) you must obtain a new FAA medical certificate of any class before operating under BasicMed.

Comprehensive Medical Examination

Q: How do I find a physician to conduct the BasicMed medical examination?

A: Any physician who is familiar with your complete health history would be a good choice. Also, some AMEs may elect to provide medical examinations under BasicMed.

Q: My state-licensed physician who conducted my medical examination refused to sign the CMEC. What can I do?

A: You should check with your physician to see what the medical reasons were behind his or her decision not to sign the CMEC. You may not operate under BasicMed without a completed CMEC, and the FAA strongly recommends addressing those medical issues before flying under any circumstances.


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