AOPA’s puzzlement about delay/defeat of Airman Medical Self-Evaluation Proposal is Mystifying

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AOPA is one of the most astute aviation associations. Its knowledge of the FARs and the process by which those rules are created is excellent. Its political clout is second to none. Based on those observations, a letter from AOPA’s President and CEO to the DoT Secretary Foxx is puzzling from a number of perspectives.

The AOPA letter declares that Medical Self-Evaluation for Certain Noncommercial Operations in Lieu of Airman Medical Certification, a draft NPRM based on the GA pilots’ petition, was of “the utmost importance to our members and has significant economic implications for the entire general aviation community and beyond.” AOPA has a well-established history of proposing and producing changes in the rules applicable to their members. The extensive and thorough information submitted by the folks in Frederick completely convinced the FAA to issue a relaxation/elimination of the standards applicable to small aircraft pilots. The document was then sent to the DoT staff who reviews all NPRMs.

Mr. Baker’s letter expresses surprise that the Self-Administered Medical proposal sat with the Department’s policy and legal overseers “for almost seven months as part of a mandatory review process that is supposed to take no more than 90 days.” Really? The DoT publishes a Report on DOT Significant Rulemakings and it is a record from which one can calculate the delays involved in DoT and OMB reviews. The seven months complained of by the President would stand atop of the list of swift DoT reviews. AOPA knows that and its taking issue with that period is quizzical at best.

A second oddity is placing the blame on the DoT. While it is quite possible that some bureaucrats there may be skeptical, the Obama Administration’s general themes are in to advance safety rules, not reducing them. Further, the policy leaders of Foxx’s department tend to be more responsive to the White House’s guidance than the FAA. Those considerations aside, the real culprit which killed this Self-Evaluation was the NTSB. The Acting Chair testified at a House hearing that “[w]e’re [the Board] very concerned about pilots flying without adequate medical standards.” That was the Kiss-of-Death for the AOPA plan; no one would approve the self-evaluation after such lethal criticism.

So it is pretty clear that the letter sent to Secretary Foxx was misaddressed. Mr. Baker’s missive probably did not cause the lethargic DoT staff to change their pace or attitude. Even if the January 13 epistle was sent to the Board, they would not be impressed. It is focused on safety and has little acuity about economics. The points made to the FAA would not register with the NTSB.

The argument that reducing this medical standard will help stimulate flying hours and/or sales of GA planes is now even impermissible as a standard for the FAA. “Promoting” aviation was deleted from the FAAct in an amendment proposed by Rep. DeFazio and enacted. Mr. Baker is quoted as saying “We’re laser focused on this.” Such “laissez faire” economics no longer has any viability in the FAA/DoT/OMB review or at the NTSB.

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