The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) are taking the next step in their effort to bolster the pilot population, petitioning FAA to permit recreational pilots to participate in a recurrent online educational program instead of obtaining a third-class medical certificate.

The move would reduce a bureaucratic barrier to flight and save pilots up to $250 million over 10 years, the associations say. “Our petition offers substantial economic savings to pilots and the U.S. government,” says AOPA President and CEO Craig Fuller, adding that government savings could reach $11 million over 10 years. The associations tell FAA that often, “the cost, time and hassle of obtaining a third-class medical certificate is too much for the recreational pilot to invest.”

The petition, filed March 20, follows months of groundwork between the two associations to develop the online program that would teach participants how to self-assess their fitness to fly. The program, available for free on the AOPA Air Safety Institute website, exceeds current training requirements, the associations say, telling FAA that their petition “would provide an equivalent level of safety and, in practice, stands to provide a greater level of safety.”

Under their petition, pilots would be required to hold a valid driver’s license, carry a certificate of completion of the medical program and conduct self-assessments before flight. The associations maintain that pilots already conduct those assessments between medical examinations. “The difference is that pilots will have a higher level of knowledge to do the self-assessment after completion of the required education program,” they say.

The petition builds upon the sport pilot medical standard, which also requires a driver’s license instead of an FAA medical certificate. The associations note that the National Transportation Safety Board has not attributed any accidents in the sport pilot category to medical deficiencies since the driver’s license standard was established seven years ago.

The AOPA/EAA petition would include certain limitations – pilots would be permitted to fly with one passenger in aircraft equipped with fixed landing gear, four or fewer seats and a single engine that has no more than 180 hp. Flight would be limited to visual flight rules/visual meteorological conditions below 10,000 ft. mean sea level. These are limitations already set for recreational flight.

The associations are hoping that by staying within the existing recreational flight framework, it will give their petition a stronger chance of success.

EAA President Rod Hightower says the petition would reduce a significant hurdle for recreational flight.