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Pilots don’t like to run out of altitude, runway, fuel … or paper.

By paper I mean the aircraft’s registration, annual inspection, transponder certification or any of the other paperwork that is required for flight. And I was unable to fly my own airplane to breakfast again this week — even though my magneto was fixed — because I didn’t have a required piece of paper; my medical certificate had expired!

It was my own fault for waiting too long to make an appointment with my FAA Medical Examiner. I probably could have seen another examiner before the end of July, when my two years was up, but I’d rather hold off a day or two to see the same FAA doc who has been familiar with me and my medical history for many years.

So I hopped in with Robbie for a flight to the Vineyard, which is something we won’t be able to do for most of August, since President Obama will be vacationing on the island for a few weeks. It was a beautiful calm morning for flying, and breakfast at the main airport was just fine.

“You guys look like you’re out on parole.”

Celebrity sightings are common on the Vineyard, and usually we just smile and go on our way. But actor/comedian Bill Murray, who does not do many Hollywood interviews, is notoriously friendly in real life. So when our gang literally ran into him with his own group of friends at the gate to the flight line, Mike said hello and Bill obliged our motley crew with some banter and the quip about us being out on parole. Which was reasonably astute, since we are a bunch of working guys who do look a bit scruffy for our breakfast flights.

Third Class Medical Reform

Speaking of medical certificates, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is wrangling with congress right now to do away with the FAA’s  inefficient and cumbersome medical requirements for private pilots. They would like to move to a self-reporting system for medical issues, similar to the state drivers’ license system or the relaxed medical standards for light-sport pilots, which have been working well in smaller airplanes for many years. I’m all for that! So I was a bit miffed when I learned that the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) is one of the staunchest opponents to the reform legislation.

However, upon reflection, I can see airline guys’ side of the issue, since the total elimination of the third class medical requirement might allow some pilots to fly beyond their physical limitations at airliner altitudes, such as a person with a history of heart trouble or sleep apnea choosing to fly at 17,500 feet in an unpressurized aircraft. Supplemental oxygen would be required at that height, usually delivered via a nasal cannula. Especially a night, that could lead to big trouble. And there are other scary scenarios.

So I really don’t know. I believe that my fitness to fly family and friends low and slow in my little Cherokee is between me and my personal physician. I wish that the FAA would allow private pilots of single engine four seat airplanes to self-report medical issues and remedies. But who knows if the other guy would push the limits too far?