Three levels of medical certificates are required of various pilots – third class, second class and first class. Each involves a more thorough and invasive medical exam than the last, and each confers greater privileges on the pilots who hold it.
Commercial airline pilots, for example, must hold first-class medical certificates, while pilots flying single-seat aircraft must hold third-class medical certificates.
On July 15, 2016 President Obama signed into law the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act. The new legislation grants an exemption from ordinary third-class medical certification requirements that effectively expands the flying privileges available to those who have been issued third-class certification and eases the burdens of qualifying for third-class certification.
To benefit from the new regulations, you must hold a valid state driver’s license and you must have been issued a flight medical certificate no earlier than July 16, 2006 (it doesn’t have to be valid right now). If you have never been issued a medical certificate before, you will have to obtain one. The exemption allows you to enjoy the following privileges:
- You will only need to obtain a medical certification one time, instead of every two to five years.
- You may fly “covered aircraft” — aircraft with up to six seats (including the pilot seat), with a weight limitation of 6,000 pounds
- You may fly below 18,000 feet at speeds of up to 250 knots.
- You may use either Visual Flight Rules (VFR) or Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), as long as you are appropriately rated
- The results of your exam will not have to be sent to the FAA (although you must retain them and supply to the FAA upon request).
Maintaining Your Eligibility
To remain eligible for your new flying privileges, you will have to comply with the following restrictions:
- You may not fly for compensation or for hire
- You may not exceed the weight, speed and altitude limits mentioned above. If you wish to exceed these limits, you must sacrifice the benefits of the exemption and fly under the previous third-class medical certificate rules, including the requirement for periodic renewal of your medical certificate.
- You may not take advantage of the exemption during flights outside of the United States unless the host country grants consent.
The “Statute into Regulations” Delay
Although the new legislation has been signed by the President, they don’t become applicable law immediately. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is required to issue new or amended regulations that are consistent with the new legislation before you will be able to take advantage of the exemption.
The FAA is expected to issue these new regulations within 180 days of July 15, 2016. If the FAA fails to issue new or amended regulations by July 14, 2017, however, the FAA cannot take action against you for not holding an ordinary third-class medical certificate as long as you make a “good faith” effort to comply with the new legislation in the absence of implementing regulations. In all likelihood, however, the FAA will issue new regulations inside of the 180-day deadline.