Government Watchdog Questions FAA's BasicMed Oversight

 - September 9, 2020, 10:53 AM

The FAA lacks processes to verify compliance with the BasicMed program and does not have sufficient data to fully assess the ramifications on safety, a U.S. government watchdog found. In a recent report prepared for Congress, the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recommended that the FAA improve its procedures for verifying a pilot’s eligibility for the BasicMed program, as well as its measurements of the effects on aviation safety.

At the behest of Congress, the agency released the BasicMed program in 2017, providing an alternative for FAA medicals for certain pilots who fly recreationally. The program requires participants to get a physical exam with a state-licensed physician and complete an online medical course. About 55,000 pilots are now enrolled in the program.

The OIG is concerned, though, that the FAA does not have processes to confirm the pilots meet eligibility requirements, including whether or not they carry a valid U.S. driver’s license. Pilots who register for BasicMed authorize the FAA to conduct a driving record check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Driver Register, but that check is limited to records for violations for driving under the influence (DUI), driving while intoxicated (DWI), and substance abuse. The OIG said the check does not cover 100 other possible violations such as those resulting in fatal accidents or reckless driving.

In addition, the OIG questioned a lack of ability to verify that state-licensed physicians are conducting the medical examinations. Congress did not require the FAA to do so, the OIG said, but noted an FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine found that 3 percent of pilots’ medical examinations were performed by medical providers who did not appear to qualify as state-licensed physicians.

“As a result of these issues, FAA cannot have reasonable assurance that pilots meet BasicMed eligibility requirements,” the OIG said.

Further, the watchdog acknowledged that the FAA formed the BasicMed Reporting and Analysis Working Group with plans to monitor safety issues such as whether the risk varies between pilots operating under BasicMed compared with pilots with active medical certificates.

“However, FAA told us that it may take several more years until there is sufficient data to identify trends and evaluate the rule’s safety impacts, due in part to the lengthy process for accident investigations,” the OIG said. “Moreover, FAA cannot make a meaningful comparison between the BasicMed rate of accidents and fatalities to those occurring among pilots holding a medical certificate because the agency does not collect data on BasicMed pilots’ flight hours. Without these data, FAA’s ability to accurately and fully assess whether BasicMed has impacted safety may be limited.”

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Missouri), the ranking Republican of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a strong proponent of the BasicMed program, welcomed the report.

“Third-class medical reform and the implementation of the BasicMed program are of immense importance to the general aviation community throughout the United States,” Graves said. “As a professional pilot and member of the Transportation Committee, I championed this important reform for many years and was proud to see it signed into law in 2016. I appreciate the IG’s review and the FAA’s commitment to ensure we get this right.”