PBOR2: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

During the holidays, I downloaded a copy of the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 as it was passed by the U.S. Senate….and am glad I did. While the alphabet pilot organization (AOPA and EAA) websites have largely caught up with the revised bill, there are a couple of very important points I don’t feel have been adequately presented or explored. (You’re welcome to download a copy of the bill from here so you can see what I’m talking about.)

Both websites correctly present the basic facts behind the rewrite. It’s been reported for a while that pilots are required to take an educational course every 24 months and to see their doctor at least once every four years. What I don’t see them reporting is this: the requirement for the educational course as well as the medical exam must be met BEFORE flying under the act. And while the original write-up simply had the pilot make a logbook entry that he had seen a doctor, this version of the bill requires the pilot show up at the exam with a checklist composed of questions 3 through 13 and 16 through 19 from FAA Form 8500-8 and that specifies the areas that the doctor must check during your physical examination. At the end of the exam, the doctor must now sign a statement that he/she knows of no condition that would prevent the pilot from flying an aircraft.

The AOPA website says this is not the same as a substitution of the third class medical requirement. While that is technically true, it is essentially a third class medical without the exact standards as specified in the Federal Aviation Regulations, i.e., the doctor’s judgment takes the place of an exact standard. The process is better than that in the third class medical in the sense there is no hard “pass/fail” that immediately dictates what happens to you from that moment on. However, a doctor’s certification is still required, and that may prove to just as problematic to get since you’re asking a non-aviation trained physician to sign off on your ability to fly an aircraft. (And part of that is also asking the physician to make a “psychiatric” (i.e. mood and ability to communicate) evaluation, so make sure you don’t go to get your exam if you had a bad day at work or a fight with your spouse.) It’s not hard to imagine that some doctors will not want to take on the liability, even if they don’t see an actual reason not to to sign. Of course, unlike the case where a FAA medical exam bust would result in loss of all flying privileges, if the pilot has not had a previous medical denied or withdrawn, flying Light Sport would still be an option.

Additionally, when you take your educational course, you will be required to consent to allowing the FAA to get information from the National Driver Register through your state’s department of motor vehicles about your driving record.

Frankly, these provisions are not as onerous as those associated with getting a third class medical but are more onerous than those associated with flying Light Sport. If the PBOR2 passes in this session of Congress, I will be one of the pilots who can take advantage of the bill’s provisions to expand my flying beyond Light Sport. However, I consider the bill’s provisions more personally intrusive than continuing to fly Light Sport; so, pursuing flight under its provisions will be something I do as an aside rather than as a primary focus as I had originally planned.

Of course, the bill still has to make it out of the US House of Representatives and get signed by the President before it becomes law.

Whether it passes or not, the one thing I am very happy about is it has no affect on my ability to fly Light Sport. It may turn out that having Light Sport in our pockets is more important than it has appeared for the last few years.

A half victory is better than none; but it is still a half-victory.