This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.
The FAA is expanding its leniency for the aviation community during the Covid-19 crisis, under a legal interpretation for flight crewmembers who face expiration of airmen medical certifications between March 31 and June 30 but are unable to renew in that timeframe. The interpretation, which is expected to be followed by an exemption, comes after the agency's exemptions providing relief from certain Part 135/119 training requirements.
“It is not in the public interest at this time to maintain the requirement of an FAA medical examination, which is a nonemergency medical service, in order for pilots and flight engineers with expiring medical certificates to obtain new medical certificates,” the agency said. “This is because of the burden that Covid-19 places on the U.S. healthcare system, and because these aviation medical examinations increase the risk of transmission of the virus through personal contact between the physician and the applicant for an airman medical certificate.”
Accordingly, the FAA plans to withhold enforcement through June 30 for holders of an FAA-issued medical certificate serving as a required pilot crewmember or flight engineer within the U.S. The agency, however, still encourages pilots to complete their regularly required medical certificate exam if they are able to do so.
Helicopter Association International (HAI) further encouraged flight crewmembers to meet the requirements without delay, if possible. “I note that the document was signed by Legal, not Flight Standards," said HAI president and CEO James Viola. "It's also possible that insurance companies may not acknowledge this document as binding." HAI is seeking further clarification but advises pilots to reach out to their insurance companies if they confront this situation.
However, aviation groups generally were pleased with the action, praising the FAA’s willingness to work with industry on these issues.
“Many pilots are facing difficulty renewing their medical certificates as medical facilities are reducing or eliminating non-essential visits, and the risk of pilots contracting and spreading Covid-19 is growing daily, especially for those in the pilot community who are at higher risk from this pandemic,” said Brian Koester, director of flight operations and regulations for NBAA. “We commend the FAA for recognizing that this unprecedented situation required prompt and decisive action and we recommend operators contact their insurance underwriter to ensure coverage before flying under this provision.”
“The FAA is meeting the moment by finding the quickest and most effective path to address an urgent need, and we deeply appreciate the creative thinking and recognition that keeping general aviation operational serves a greater good,” added Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association president Mark Baker. “We will continue to work with our partners in government and industry to rise to the demands of this extraordinary time.”
Editor's note: This article was updated to clarify that the FAA action is a legal interpretation only rather than an exemption rulemaking, but that an exemption is anticipated.