Sport Pilot is Not a Morning-After Remedy for a Lost Medical

By Scott Spangler on April 9th, 2008

MedicalPilots rightly obsess about losing their medical certificates, and too many of them think sport pilot, with its “driver’s license medical,” is an ever-ready, morning-after remedy for this unfortunate event. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Losing” a medical is a catch-all description meaning the FAA has denied, revoked, suspended, or withdrawn your medical certification because it knows about a condition or situation contrary to its acceptable standards. And regardless the class of medical certification, first, second, third, or driver’s license, the FAA will not reissue–or approve–any type of medical certification until the situation is resolved.

Yes, you read that right: In the FAA’s eyes, a valid driver’s license is a form of medical certification. Remember, sport pilots have a choice: they must hold either an FAA medical certificate or a valid driver’s license. 

After losing medical certification, the only way you can fly as a sport pilot is to resolve the disqualifying condition by jumping through the hoops necessary get a special issuance medical. When the special issuance expires, you can certify your medical fitness for flight with a driver’s license,  without any paperwork or exams.

Pilot’s can avoid the time and expense of getting a special issuance by not losing their medical. If you think something might lead to this at your next visit to the aviation medical examiner–don’t go. Let your medical expire. Then fly according to sport pilot privileges and limitations using a valid driver’s license, again without any paperwork, exams, or surrendering your (expired) medical certificate.

Do not make this decision at the AME’s office. It’s too late. Once you fill out the application for a medical certificate, AMEs cannot tear it up. They must submit it. If more tests are needed, and you do not provide the requested test results, you’ve just lost your medical–the FAA will deny your application because you failed to provide the requested test results.

Flying on a driver’s license is not without its responsibilities.  Most states require drivers to report–and not drive–the loss of  consciousness or motor function, vision changes, impaired judgment, and seizures. 

And FAR 61.23(c)(2)(iv) says a pilot flying on a driver’s license must: “Not know or have reason to know of any medical condition that would make that person unable to operate a light-sport aircraft in a safe manner.”

By “light sport aircraft,” that means you’re flying something that  meets the definition of a light sport aircraft in the category appropriate to your pilot’s certificate. For most, that means fixed wing. In the sport pilot world that’s a two-seater with a max gross weight of 1,320 pounds, a 45-knot max stall speed, and a top end of 120 knots in level flight with max continuous power. –Scott Spangler


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5 Responses to “Sport Pilot is Not a Morning-After Remedy for a Lost Medical”

  1. Jess Sightler Says:

    Nice post! It is always good advice not to fill out anything at the AME’s office until you have a reasonable assurance that you aren’t going to have to fill something out that would result in an automatic denial.

    My AME’s secretary actually helped with this on the first call to their office by asking a few pointed questions about common issues and then directing me to get some things in order before coming in to apply.

    I believe that AOPA TurboMedical also provides a similar service so that you can have a good idea ahead of time if you are likely to pass.

  2. Eric Says:

    Scott this is important information. Thanks for posting it. I dont have any health problems but had in the back of my head that if it ever happened to me that a sport pilots license was a fall back position.

    Much appreciate your info here. Good post sir.


  3. Andrew Says:

    The FAA needs to address this “don’t ask, don’t tell policy.” I believe it will become unworkable. The FAA should revise the policy. How about if a pilot is denied, that pilot can fly as a sport pilot provided he/she remain under the care of a physician who specializes in the condition and that doctor sends in a letter each year saying the person is being treated? The idea may need work, but the FAA has created a two-class system that may force many otherwise qualified pilots from flying as a Private Pilot and ultimately out of flying altogether.

  4. John Smith Says:

    Thanks for the great info. I recently had a heart attack but am fine now. Just a plumbing problem, not “electrical”. I have Cessna Stationair. Do not want to do battle with FAA to clear medical. Don’t want to go thru the every 6 month deal. Selling Stationair and thinking getting plane to qualify for “Sport Pilot”. Faa does NOT know at this time about heart incident. Medical expires next year. What is best way to sneak a “Sport Pilot” classification? Thanks, john

  5. Scott Says:

    There’s no need to “sneak,” John. The FAA has not denied you a medical certificate, so all you need to do is let your current medical expire, have a current driver’s license and flight review, and fly an airplane that meets the requirements of a light-sport aircraft. At most, you’d need a checkout in the LSA, depending on your flying background (i.e. it’s a taildragger and you don’t have a tailwheel endorsement). As time passes, you’ll need to maintain your PIC currency in the LSA, and get a flight review every 24 months.

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