FAA Report Says BasicMed Hasn’t Raised Accident Risk


The FAA says BasicMed is safe but it will continue to monitor its impact on GA. The agency sent a report to Congress on March 10 based on a study of aviation activity and accident data accumulated in the first three years after the relaxed medical standards for recreational pilots went into effect in January of 2017. “The FAA determined that while BasicMed did not impact small aircraft activity, it also did not significantly impact aviation safety,” the report said. “No difference was found in the risk of BasicMed and third-class airmen having an aviation accident from the start of BasicMed in 2017 through the end of 2019.”

While the accident rate didn’t go up under BasicMed, the report says its implementation also hasn’t been much of a boost for the industry. “The implementation of BasicMed does not appear to significantly reduce the slow long-term decline in the number of active GA pilots. Estimated aircraft flight hours demonstrate an equivalent rate of growth both before and after the implementation of BasicMed,” the report said. It also noted that those using BasicMed “are much more likely to have required and Special Issuance” and that “reflects a potentially elevated risk of incapacitation among the BasicMed population in the context of reduced FAA oversight.”

AOPA appears to challenge the FAA assessment of the effects of BasicMed on overall GA activity. “The number of individuals holding a private or student pilot certificate in the United States has climbed from 584,000 in 2016 to nearly 757,000 today, a 30 percent increase,” AOPA said in a statement reacting to the report. “According to the FAA report, the total number of aircraft hours flown by pilots under BasicMed increased from over 15 million in 2017, the year FAA implemented BasicMed, to over 16 million in 2019.” AOPA also said the overall GA accident rate is “at its lowest level in decades” according to NTSB data. 

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Sounds like the FAA is playing word games with this report, leaving open any opportunity for the FAA to cancel outright the BasicMed program if the stats show any increase in private pilot incapacitation.

  2. What Basic Med and self certification for LSA have shown is that there is virtually no statistically significant difference in medical condition related accidents between these groups and 3rd Class medical holders. What this means is that we are paying big salaries for FAA medical staff who make no significant contribution to flight safety. They merely soak up tax dollars from the taxpayers and provide annoyance to the flying community.

    • Exactly! In the lists of “things that commonly create safety issues and, you know, actually cause injuries and accidents” non-self-induced incapacitation is way, WAY down the list for both aircraft and motor vehicles. Poor judgment, poor training, inattention, weather, and equipment failure are all way further up the list. Where’s the effort to address all those accidents?

      But the established organization (that gets to make the rules that justify its existence) continues to spend untold millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of man-hours fussing over things that potentially might could maybe possibly by chance theoretically happen… and then take those rejected over that one-in-a-million possibility and send them home on the road in their car at hundreds of times the immediate risk exposure.

      • GREAT last point, Bob … except send them home in their 45′ tag axle, 600hp diesel pusher, four popout, Class A motorhome with 10 people inside pulling a 25′ matching cargo trailer filled with Harley’s, golf carts and dirt bikes down I-95 or I-5. Yeah … makes a lot of sense … NOT!

  3. “It also noted that those using BasicMed “are much more likely to have required and Special Issuance” and that “reflects a potentially elevated risk of incapacitation among the BasicMed population in the context of reduced FAA oversight.””

    Sounds like they’re fishing for a reason to say “see BasicMed increases risk”. That’s a major “poop emoji” right there. Maybe there’s an increase in SIs because pilots know they only have to do it ONCE with BM, instead of every year with a 3rd-class.

    And given a number of recent pilot incapacitations of *airline* pilots with 1st-class medicals, the REAL question that should be asked is, “does the traditional 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-class medical statistically DECREASE the chance of pilot incapacitation”. Of course, the FAA won’t ask that question, because they’re afraid the answer would be “no, it does not”, and thus put a whole bunch of FAA medical staff out of business.

  4. My 2 ounces… No FAA medical required for any form of recreational flying. Extend the Sport rules to the Private certificate and do away with the 3rd class medical. That would eliminate a LOT of legal wrangling and paperwork in MOSAIC and save the taxpayers a LOT of money. Which means that it probably won’t happen.

    If my personal physician, whom I visit twice yearly, is OK with me flying an airplane, then the FAA should be OK with it also.

  5. The risk of pilot incapacitation is a vanishingly small risk. A handful a year. Literally more die from falling out of bed or from being struck by lightning each year than from sudden incapacitation in flight. What other activity, with a risk that low, has a federal bureaucracy presiding over it? What is the risk of riding a bicycle, a motorcycle, a car, skiing, off road biking, etc? These all have higher probabilities of fatality or injury, yet have no bureaucratic oversight, except trivially. Recreational flying in light planes does not pose risks that warrant such large scale and heavy handed medical oversight.

  6. I find the statement that there is no increase in GA activity interesting. To me if medical is removed as the major impediment, it says that the next target of all GA groups should be to reduce the COST of GA activities.

    I believe that the next phase should be easing some of the certification requirements for avionics and parts, acting together to get contracts with at least two insurance companies, to get reasonable rates, and fighting for more public tarmac areas that do not require exorbitant FBO fees (or limiting those fees). I am not sure what would happen to fuel prices, especially after the switch to unleaded.

  7. There is an entire bureaucracy dedicated to continuing to justify its own existence by continuing to publish reports that essentially restate “water is wet”. The feds dragged their collective feet for decades until Congress backed their lazy ‘protecting their turf’ backsides up against the wall and told them what they were going to do. Even then, I am pretty sure there was stalling and maneuvering up until the legislated last minute. If nothing else, bureaucracies are passive-aggressive in compliance.

    There is NO way, except in some dystopian version of reality, that a machine physician employed by the government really has any greater insight into your physical capabilities and risk profile than the doctor you see face to face (hopefully on a regular basis!) and have engaged for years to look after you. Heck, I’d be more interested in the rate of people with 1st class ducats becoming incapacitated while at the stick of a 250 passenger pressurized cigar tube at FL350 than Joe Bagadonuts in his 172 flying to meet his buddies for a cup of joe. It’s the media perception: aviation incidents (however rare) rate the lead on the 6PM show…the 35K dead on the highways may rate a footnote in some other story.

    I fully agree: the third is a useless bureaucratic exercise. Even for incoming students: do the CMEC, the biannual on-line training from AOPA or another valid provider. Unless you’re one of the above mentioned captains of pressurized cigar tubes, where I might want a bit higher level of oversight, your own doctor is in a better position to judge than OakCity.

    • You’re statement that, “I am pretty sure there was stalling and maneuvering up until the legislated last minute ,,,” is correct, Bryan.

      I spoke with Sen. Inhofe one-on-one at Airventure several different years. He told me that he was all set to use the golden opportunity of FAA Reauthorization to spring a “No Medical” required for recreational fliers … just like LSA … but my Sen. Bill Nelson strongly objected and took a few more Senators with him. This required a compromise to get Nelson, et al, on board with the idea. When the language in the Bill was finally initially written, it had a “Pass or Fail” requirement in it initially. Sen. Inhofe then threw a hemorrhage and put HIS foot down and said, “Hell NO!” THAT is how AC 68-1 became AC 68-1A. It happened because Sen Inhofe stood his ground. ALL of us here owe a great debt of gratitude to Sen. Inhofe for that, among other things he did for us all. Every time I think of Michael Huerta telling us all that Medical Reform was ‘in the works’ and the subject was “Ex Parte” I get livid. He was blatantly lying … period.

      And there’s another good point to ponder. I shunned doctors because I didn’t want to potentially have something pop out that I’d have to disclose on a FAA medical form. NOW, with BasicMed, I see a doctor every 6 months. I bet I’m not alone in that?

      We need another Sen. Inhofe and another FAA Reauthorization to get a few more things passed!

      • This and the points made by Bryan B are the reasons why I do not support making Mr Nolan FAA administrator. His credentials may make him qualified, but the fact that he is part of the bureaucracy that is the FAA, I don’t see anything changing if he is nominated and confirmed.

      • And NOW I see where somehow, the FAA has hooked their computers to VA computers and is violating airmen who failed to disclose minor VA disability benefits on their paperwork. And — worse — different entities within FAA is treating similar situations differently requiring AOPA’s Baker to petition for relief from FAA at SnF ’23. Swell !! The FAA can’t fix the NOTAM system but is doing enforcement actions against airmen for minor stuff like that. The bureaucrats with absolute power need to be stopped!


  8. Since the FAA got Basic Med crammed down their throats by Congress, it isn’t surprising that they still have a penchant to search for reasons to see it fail. Thus, they say it doesn’t APPEAR that it has affected overall safety, but they will keep looking. The FAA is one of the most entrenched bureaucracies in Washington, but there are a few small glimpses of hope (i.e. Basic Med, NORSEE). I think it is incumbent on all of us who fly to keep a regular dialog with our elected representatives to insist they keep aviation high on their agendas in order to hold the Congressional sword over the FAA’s head. If that is what it takes to get the FAA’s attention, then so be it.

    • The EAA and FAA DO that every February, John. I view that meeting as THE post positive and proactive opportunity to improve the lot of GA. NORSEE is a MAJOR irritant to me, however. The FAR Part 23 Rewrite Working Group (which had some FAA types as part of it) worked for five years to produce a report submitted to Earl Lawrence, Mgr of the Small Aircraft Directorate. Once it then entered the FAA machine, all that came OF it was NORSEE … big deal 🙁 . The one thing I wanted to see was the idea of instituting a new category of airworthiness called “Primary” … not to be confused with the current same definition rarely used. It would have allowed owners of certificated airplanes to relicense them as a “Primary” category airplane which would have been similar to an S-LSA. The benefit would have been that only a condition inspection would be required which could be done by an A&P. The bulk of the tenets of the FAR Part 23 Rewrite were NOT accepted. Had I been one of the panelists on that working group … I’da been furious !!

      • Well Larry, I did say “small” glimpses. 🙁
        I agree that the FAA’s automatic response to ANY change is to say “No”, even before they hear any details of the proposal. The Part 23 rewrite is just another example, like PAFI and EAGLE, of the FAA’s hidebound resistance to change, especially if it comes from outside the agency. And unfortunately, they have far too many members of Congress convinced that changes will lower the safety of flying, so it is best to just leave things as they are. Bill Nelson is a perfect example of that. Maybe we should nominate you for head of the FAA. Lord knows it could stand a little shakeup.

        • THAT is funny, John. That’s why I said I only wanted to be the Manager of the Small Aircraft Directorate under Paul Bertorelli as Administrator. That said, IF I somehow magically found myself Administrator, a whole lot of people would start working from their offices instead of basements for starters. And, any dead wood would be jettisoned in the first 90 days. I’d become known as “Larry the Enforcer.” 🙂

  9. Seems there’s a lot of unity here on these questions. If we can get more visibility on this, both political parties might act quickly to prevent a rise of libertarian sentiment from building.


  10. Why don’t we all do THIS. Demand that all aspirants to any Federal political office or senior Federal bureaucrat position have to go through and pass the very same medical processes as pilots before they can run for office. Anyone who can’t find the door to leave the doctor’s office, spends >50% of their time cackling or is missing in action for more than four weeks is automatically disqualified. And … they should have to fill out forms threatening them with jail and fines if they lie about any of a bunch of disclosures that we here come up with, too. Yeeeaahhh! That oughta make believers out of ’em.

    • Include the same drug testing protocols that pilots and mechanics or other “safety” related aviation employees have to go through!

      • Bingo, Matt! Great point. The IA I help works on a couple of GA airplanes that require him to do a drug test …despite that he’s 80 years old AND has a CDL. The testing for the CDL won’t suffice. He’s had issues with the outfit he uses to comply and has damn near had to pay a major fine for an administrative error. The whole thing is a draconian over reaction with some inspectors wielding too much power and not enough common sense. This subject makes me nuts.