Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Modest Proposal

I'm approaching the end of my six month wait for recertification after last September's angioplasty; my testing is scheduled for days n+2 and n+4, where n is the FAA requirement.

Getting ready to fly again has got me thinking about what I did not, or, better, could not do as an instructor without a medical certificate. In particular, the combination of 14CFR 61.23(a)(3)(v), "Medical Certificates: Requirement and Duration," and 14CFR91.107(b)(1), "...Simulated Instrument Flight..." require that an instrument instructor (CFII) have a third-class medical certificate; the latter makes the instructor a required crewmember, and the former says that an instructor who acts as a required crew member must have the medical.

Generally, the reason that medical certificates are required is the concern that a crewmember suffer from "sudden incapacitation." That means things like heart attack, seizure, stroke, or kidney stone. I imagine that it is a truth universally acknowledged that sudden incapacitation in an aircraft is a Bad Thing.

The secondary reasons that medical certificates are required is the concern about vision and hearing. You can't see and avoid other aircraft if you can't see. (You can fly well if you are deaf, but the FAA makes you prove it and limits your privileges with regard to radio use.)

The justification for 14CFR 61.23(a)(3)(v) is based on the secondary reasons. A CFII having a heart attack while a student is under the hood is no different from any other passenger's incapacitation, and we have no medical requirements for passengers. Sudden incapacitation of a passenger is a Bad Thing, and pilots need to be prepared to deal with it, but it is not a threat to the public at large.

No, the reason a CFII needs a medical is to make sure that he or she can "see and avoid" other aircraft and the ground. That's why we have 14CFR91.107(b)(1).

Now, in the past few years the FAA has decided to accept the judgment of another agency about pilot vision: your state's Department of Motor Vehicles. If you have a driver's license and your most recent medical was not revoked then you may exercise "Light Sport" privileges. Light Sport privileges are restrictive (day VFR, ground contact, altitude and speed limitations, and, most importantly, number of passengers). But it is my experience that a large amount of instrument instruction more-or-less fits the Light Sport model. The airplanes are heavier and faster, of course, but the back seat is empty and it's day VFR.

So here is my proposal: allow a CFII who has Light Sport privileges to fly with a student under the hood. I see no downside; if you do, I would like to hear it. The upside is that this would allow a bunch of older, experienced instrument instructors to continue to pass their wisdom along to the next generation without worrying about a medical certificate.

There is one big difficulty here. 14CFR61.65(d)(2) requires a training flight that is conducted under instrument flight rules. I like this regulation; it makes sure that students get out into the system. And I do not think that someone with only Sport Pilot privileges should be PIC under IFR; if the CFII became incapacitated in instrument conditions while approaching a busy terminal, there would be a lot of trouble. But a CFII without a medical could send a student to someone with a medical for this flight, which would make a very comprehensive stage check.

So, what do you think? I plan to contact the FAA to see what they think. Let's keep all that knowledge and experience around for the next generation.

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At March 15, 2010 at 7:52 AM , Blogger Michael said...

I completley agree with you.


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