September 2, 2020
Requested by the Chairmen of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and its Aviation Subcommittee
FAA Issued New Medical Requirements for Small Aircraft Pilots but Lacks Procedures and Data To Oversee the Program
What We Looked At
The United States has the largest and most diverse general aviation community in the world. In 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a new rule, referred to as BasicMed, which implemented an alternative way for many general aviation pilots to establish medical eligibility without having to undergo the previous medical certification process. As of April 2020, more than 55,000 pilots had been registered for BasicMed. To aid in their oversight of the new BasicMed process, then Chairmen Bill Shuster of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Frank A. LoBiondo of the Subcommittee on Aviation requested that we examine FAA's implementation of the new BasicMed requirements. Our audit objectives were to assess FAA’s (1) procedures for implementing new medical requirements for certain small aircraft pilots, including identifying challenges to its implementation, and (2) plans for measuring the impact of the new BasicMed process on aviation safety.
What We Found
FAA issued the BasicMed rule in compliance with the Act on January 11, 2017, and provided guidance and conducted outreach to stakeholders to implement the program. Under BasicMed, pilots can fly an aircraft the moment they complete the online medical course and submit other required information. However, FAA lacks an effective process to confirm pilots meet all eligibility requirements, such as whether they have a valid U.S. driver’s license. FAA also does not have a process to verify that pilots’ medical examinations are being performed by State-licensed physicians as required. In addition, FAA’s plan to measure the safety impact of the program is limited by a lack of available data. According to FAA, 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.
FAA concurred with our two recommendations to improve FAA’s process for verifying pilot’s eligibility for the BasicMed program and measuring the program’s impact on aviation safety.