Reading an article in the local Charlotte paper on doing away with required flight physicals taught me a lesson. Don’t believe everything you read, and do check the facts whenever possible. The Charlotte article stated that Senator Inhofe’s PBR2 would essentially do away with a required medical exam for Class 3 (private) pilots. Instead pilots would just write a note in their log every four years, that they’d been to see a physician. Looking further into what was written, according to Joan Lowy of the AP, “a pilot would double the time allowed between exams for pilots over age 40 from two to four years, so long as they also held a valid driver’s license. Instead of a government-certified medical examiner, pilots could see any doctor they like”. It went on to state the doctor would not have to certify to the FAA that the “pilot was healthy enough to fly”. I am shocked at the proposal and worried that something like that will get enacted.
Flying is not like driving a car. There are so many other things to consider, in addition to simple road maps and traffic signals, such as the subtleties encountered in flight like weather, aircraft performance, navigation and communication to name a few. Even at its simplest, the challenges can be huge, and are either met or calamity may occur. That is why I believe physical and mental condition evaluation to be so important.
Just to reiterate an experience I had when flying the right seat in a Pa-34 Seneca, I had to take over landing at a Cleveland airport under IFR conditions when the left seater suddenly felt ill and was unable to continue. It turned out that he had missed getting his flight physical, which most likely would have detected the condition that caused this problem.
In summary then: I strongly encourage the continuance for required flight physicals for all categories of pilots. The spacing between exams may vary, but the exams are not to be done away with. I strongly endorse the requirement that all pilots obtain a flight physical during their flight career. The time interval between exams is a separate issue, that I won’t get into here.
Another issue I would like to discuss is weather, particularly thunderstorms. I recently came across another discussion of the hazards associated with flying when thunderstorms are around. This becomes an issue when one is flying IFR under radar control, or when VFR with the bad guys out there somewhere. If one is under the eye of a controller, don’t assume that they will always steer you or advise you safely around a dangerous cell in your path. Particularly, in busy air space like New York, Boston or Atlanta, to name a few, the controller may be just too busy to pay attention to all on his screen. I remember having to dodge a cell because I received a warning too late, and almost lost the plane. Now with radar aboard, and a pilot familiar with its usage, the odds get much better. Again, remembering one radar experience I had that almost ended up badly, because the radar set just couldn’t penetrate the storm adequately for me to see a clear path through it.
My advice is: don’t try getting through an area of storms unless you have a clear, accurate picture of what’s ahead of you and have the experience to handle it. A 180 degree turn often can be a life saver.
Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving. Fly well and safely.