Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Please co-sponsor S 2103 / HR 3708 (General Aviation Pilot Protection Act)

Sen Barbara Boxer (CA)
Sen Dianne Feinstein (CA)
Rep Anna G. Eshoo (CA 18th District)

Dear representatives,

I am writing to you all to ask you to CO-SPONSOR S 2103 / HR 3708, the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act.

My letter to you is not a "form letter" from an advocacy organization; it is from the heart and applies to my own situation and that of my own local jurisdiction. Please read it with that in mind and please do consider carefully why I would like you to be a co-sponsor.

As you know, the Bills are a preliminary proposal to permit more of the General Aviation fleet to be available for operation with a driver's license medical, in place of the current FAA Class 3 Medical certificate.


In 2004, the FAA created the Sport Pilot rule allowing flight with a driver's license in certain small airplanes. We have a great record of safe flight since then. But for some reason, the definition of "small" did not include the most common, cheaply available airplanes in the fleet -- small Cessna and Piper airplanes -- and so people had to buy new airplanes or maintain their Medical.

Sport Pilot is also limited to 2 seat aircraft, which make it hard to take more than one family member. This makes aviation inaccessible for most folks with children.


One might think this Bill's main effect is cost reduction to pilots. It's more than that.

The FAA's arcane medical requirements set up "traps" for otherwise healthy people that drive them away from aircraft in general, regardless of the cost. While the FAA testing may cost thousands of dollars, it also requires endless medical appointments and an endless fear that the certificate will be taken away for some minor issue.

The FAA is not "evil" -- they are simply trying to cover their bases in the legal way they believe they should. We the people must free them from this self-imposed deadlock. We the people are the only ones who can make the executive decisions on this matter.

Medical incapacitation is by no means the worst cause of accidents. By the FAA's own analysis --

medical incapacitation does not even show up as a cause. The main causes are "Loss of control inflight" and "Controlled flight into terrain" -- airmanship issues that can be better addressed by equipment and training.

One wonders how much public funds would be available to the FAA to combat the real aviation safety issues if the backlog of medical applications and rule-making were alleviated.


The question remains -- why is this important anyway? And why now?

The US has been the leading light in worldwide aviation research and development. We have the best General Aviation infrastructure anywhere. And we are losing it quickly. The FAA's data on the number of certificated pilots --

shows 188,001 Private Pilot certificates in 2012, down from 241,045 in 2003. That's a big loss!

We must make general aviation in the US accessible and "friendly" (as distinct from merely "cheap") or we stand to lose it.


A common argument is that aviation is a "luxury" -- we cannot afford it as a society. Sometimes that is phrased as an environmental concern, given that aircraft burn fossil fuels, and most small piston aircraft unfortunately continue to burn leaded gas.

There is plenty of money -- and there are plenty of resources -- available for recreation in this country. We purchase electronic devices, cars and food. When we participate in classically "green" sports, like surfing and kayaking, we often drive to our starting point and back. We should of course find better ways to become more conscientious consumers.

But -- none of this justifies singling out aviation as the "luxury".

Many of my friends at my local airport are common people who put into their airplane about the same amount of money as you'd spend on an average car. They are not all "rich" (though of course some are -- and these folks also drive fancy cars).


But really, revitalizing our general aviation population is actually the best way we can improve it! Without continued investment and participation, we cannot expect better, more eco-friendly airplanes. We cannot expect quieter airplanes. These exist at the moment, but they are very expensive because the pilot population is so small. We must first get pilots into aviation, then start replacing the current fleet bit by bit. For an example of a fuel-efficient airplane, look to Pipistrel, who regularly win the NASA fuel efficiency competitions --

These aircraft are not affordable yet. But the reason a Toyota Prius is affordable is that it slowly grew to replace an existing, healthy fleet. Can we build the Toyota Prius of airplanes? I'm sure we can! But not if we scare people away from flying by waving a big Class 3 Medical stick at them!


The Airplane Owners' and Pilots' Association (AOPA) has clearly come down in favor of these Bills. I agree with them.

But please remember that we pilots do not necessarily agree with the AOPA on all issues; they do not necessarily speak for us all!

An example is the AOPA's position on Pres Obama's budget proposal that would impose a $100/flight user fee on jet (and other turbine) aircraft flights that use Federal air traffic control facilities. The AOPA would have us believe that this is the gateway to a set of user fees that would put an end to general aviation! Yet -- somehow -- I can't get myself to agree with that. Many of us in the aviation world would be happy with a reasonable set of fees, structured based on some rational scheme, on a sliding scale. In Canada, for example, the fees are $68 per year for small airplanes --

I don't think this is unreasonable, given the other costs of aviation. If that's what it takes to keep the government running -- well, we must all pitch in!

So please, do not conflate the medical certification Bill before you with other "pro-aviation" efforts. We aviators are a diverse bunch and each issue before you deserves to be considered separately.


The AOPA -- and here I will use a link from the AOPA's website! -- maintains a list of co-sponsors of this Bill --

and I count only two Democrats! Please, do step forward and tip the balance. The Tesla Motors of aviation will not happen if we lose our pilot population! The Toyota Prius of aircraft will not be built. Our children will not learn how to fly if general aviation in this country is dragged down by over-regulation!


I am a student pilot living in Palo Alto, CA, and flying out of Palo Alto Municipal Airport. I fly the second cheapest airplane in the entire field, N94565 --

which is a tiny airplane, and one of the most common in the world, but (once again...) is not eligible for Sport Pilots because of the way the rules were drawn up back in 2004. I hope to fly this and the 4-seat version (not much bigger...) for fun with my family. This is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream set back in the 1960s when I was a child in Egypt, dreaming of aviation.

I cannot start flying "solo" without a Class 3 FAA Medical. I am very healthy -- low heart rate, low blood pressure, exercising every day. There are a couple things I have that trip the FAA's "radar" and require extra certification. But here's the kicker --

Every doctor I go to, in my travails to assemble the necessary paperwork, starts by rolling their eyes and saying, yeah, I know how the FAA is! Every single doctor. One of them said, "Oh, this is a formality." Another one said something unprintable. But this has taken me months and months, and $1000 of extra unnecessary testing, and there's no end in sight.

I am obviously an aviation nut. But do you really believe someone who's not as nutty as I am would go through all this trouble? Cost or no cost, just the trouble and legwork and endless appointments and medical records!

If my own general practitioner, who knows me best of all, can look at me and say I'm safe, and roll their eyes at the FAA's crazy rules and paperwork, is this not a sorry waste of Federal funds?


Once again, I entreat you to CO-SPONSOR these Bills! They are the future of aviation in the United States.

Best regards,
Ihab A.B. Awad
Palo Alto, CA

1 comment:

  1. OK letter, but much too long if u expect a legislator to read it. And introducing other issues beyond medical makes no sense. Given that you/we are not lobbyists and don't contribute $$ to their campaigns, they have no reason to care about us and certainly no reason to act on our behalf. Aside from Bernie Sanders and a few others, the legislative process is as broken as the FAA.