Lack Of Medicals Raises Safety Concerns

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Soon, pilots will be flying around the Texas skies without medical exams, with just a driver's license and half the experience of a private pilot -- that's the alarm raised by a story about sport pilots in last weekend's Dallas Morning News. "If they don't have to get a medical, or if there are ones who do this because they can't pass the medical, then they probably shouldn't be flying," Cynthia Godfrey, operations director of the Mesquite City Airport, told the newspaper (she did have more positive things to say). Ken Wiegand, head of Collin County Regional Airport in McKinney, countered. "There's a conception that a pilot will have a heart attack and come down on my house..." he told the Morning News. And yet, "I know there are folks out there with weak hearts and minds going down the highway doing 80." Historically, pilot incapacitation is a factor in a very small percentage of general-aviation accidents. According to the most recent Nall Report, compiled by AOPA's Air Safety Foundation, there were a total of five such accidents in all of 2004, four of them fatal. One resulted from a heart attack, one from carbon monoxide poisoning, and three (one nonfatal) from unknown causes. Only one of these accidents occurred with a passenger aboard, and none harmed persons on the ground. Godfrey added that pilots are required to self-certify before every flight. "Most people who have medical problems know their limitations, and I don't know too many pilots who wouldn't say, 'If I can't do this, I shouldn't be flying.' I've been in this business 25 years, and I think 99.9 percent of pilots would be very conscientious about it," she told the Morning News.