OIG Says BasicMed Needs Work


The FAA needs to improve oversight of BasicMed to ensure pilots who use it are actually entitled to do so, a new government report says. The Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General issued a report to Congress on Friday saying the agency needs better verification of the very foundations of the program: drivers licenses and family doctor credentials. According to The Associated Press, the OIG found that the agency wasn’t set up to ensure that each of the 55,000 BasicMed participants has a valid DL because it can’t flag every violation that results in revocation of a DL. It also said the FAA can’t verify that doctors who sign the periodic medical reports that are required to maintain the medical status.

The FAA says it’s already on it and will have those mechanisms in place by July 31, 2021, and it also hopes to have some data on whether the program influences GA safety in the next few years. But the OIG said the safety study can’t make a “meaningful comparison” between BasicMed pilots and those with standard medical certificates because it can’t track the hours flown by either class of pilot. Nevertheless the FAA seems to be overall bullish on the way BasicMed is going. Clayton Foushee, the FAA’s director of audit and evaluation, told AP that BasicMed pilots pose a “very low risk to the general public” and the program “provided benefits by removing unnecessary aviation regulatory burdens.”

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. “The FAA can’t track the hours flown by pilots.”

    Online logbooks ARE coming. This report is a handy… justification.

    • When you fill your medical application it asks for total hours flown it would see they could do simple math and calculate the number. It may not be AC specific but it’s a total flight hours number it should be better than nothing…

  2. The FAA isn’t really interested in anything associated with promoting general aviation. They are always on a mission to reduce it.

  3. The whole point of BasicMed was to reduce the endless bureaucratic red-tape the FAA had imposed on private pilots, not to mention the expense. The FAA was never happy with being forced by congress to accept BasicMed. It took away their power, and reduced funding for the aeromedical group, so now are working on ways to bring back their bureaucratic nightmare and justify their existence. If you want this to get even worse, vote for Biden!

    • When I started flying in 1956 pilots didn’t have to go to an AME for a third class. Any MD could fill out the FAA paperwork.

    • And if you want 2 million people to die from COVID, social security gutted, and the USA to become a Russian colony, vote for Trump!

      • So Trump is killing people, how? I’m not stupid enough to get my medical advice from a politician—ANY politician.

      • Clearly you are not an aircraft owner or pilot (I am both). In a courtroom, I would be allowed to examine a witness since you introduced this comment into evidence. Having said that, I think you need to re-examine your political leanings. If you are passionate about your choice of leadership, there are many other place on the internet that encourages and welcomes that kind of trash.

      • Spoken like someone who was born after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
        Some of us remember its erection. We know all about Russia. You’re welcome.

  4. Forget the denominator. How many total accidents annually are caused by medical incapacitation? My guess is they can be counted on the fingers of one hand. If that’s true then any criticism of BasicMed is meaningless.

  5. It’s always an endless assault on the pilot population by the government.
    My God, think of the people driving vehicles that are under the influence of something and in poor health. They are not ever required to prove they are competent. It’s all BS

  6. Basic Med or FAA Medical, both are just a paperwork process for the most part, proving very little medically about the pilot. I used to call my Class 2 the”eleven minute physical”. Took me longer to fill out the paperwork each time. It discovered nothing of significance really. I had a current one when I found out I had 95% blockage and needed a triple bypass. Had just been blessed by the official FAA AME as healthy and good to go. My hanger neighbor, retired FedEx Capt., current Class 2, and he fell over dead with a massive heart attack in his truck while waiting to get the oil changed. Just so glad it didn’t happen in his Aztec. So, whether your driver’s license is current or not makes no difference in your health.

  7. Got my first FAA medical in 1970 and have maintained one ever since, mostly 1st Class. During that time I had dealt with several medical issues including one major operation and Full cardiac work up. I have never experienced anything other than reasonable scrutiny and treatment by the FAA – and I have always been completely up front with the aeromedical docs.

  8. Of the 55,000 BasicMed pilots, it would not be hard to find out how many became incapacitated and crashed while flying an airplane. There would be wreckage with one less pilot to account for with plenty of grist for the NTSB/FAA windmill. Geez, the 50 DMV’s, state troopers, local and county cops cannot verify every driver has a valid drivers license after a revocation or traffic violation unless there is a traffic stop or an accident. Now we are going to get the FAA involved to try to do what these agencies cannot do? And of course, we pilots need FAA oversight, being overseen by the OIG, to verify the doctor who signed off the medical exam every four years is indeed a doctor.

    As usual, we have a bureaucratic behemoth overseeing another bureaucratic monster using the smokescreen of safety to justify it’s existence suggesting a problem that does not exist. This is like a blind man with sunglasses on walking in a circular room with no windows painted all black, looking for a black cat in the corner that is not there…and claiming to find one.

  9. As a long time pilot I can tell you stuff like this, or something else like this, pops up from time to time. Don’t worry or argue about, it’s not worth your time. Fall is the best time of the year to fly, so go do it. Even in these days, the country looks pretty good from 2500 feet.

  10. Now wait just a doggone minute, FAA. If I take a regular AME physical, I give you authorization to check the Nat’l Driver’s License Registry when I fill out the MedXpress forms online. If I take a Basic Med exam and subsequently do the online medical course, I give you authorization to check the Driver’s License Registry before I get the BasicMed certificate to print. What the heck is the difference? If you can’t track my DL currency on Basic Med, you’re ostensibly saying you can’t do it with a regular AME physical. You’re saying you’re not set up … you should already be set up? You people are unbelievable! Who’s on first; what’s on second?

    56,000 pilots have willingly given up a subset of their flying privileges in return for an easier time of being verified as fit to fly by their personal MD’s. Now the “OIG” has determined that “BasicMed Needs Work.” Give us all a break. Enough is enough. Give it a rest. BasicMed IS working. If just 1% of pilots flying with a BasicMed medical had accidents or incapacitations, that’d be 560 transactions and NTSB would be noticing it. If a BasicMed pilot crashed and didn’t have a driver’s license, NTSB would notice it. It ISN’T happening. In any event where either FAA or NTSB becomes involved, the first thing they check is that the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed. Same thing with Light Sport. Hoardes of pilots are flying non-certificated LSA compliant airplanes produced by companies without production certificates (S-LSA) and flying without medicals. That program is now 14 years old. There aren’t any problems of note with either the BasicMed process or the Light Sport process.

    In 2019, I discovered that an AME near Oshkosh who had added BasicMed exams to his repertoire suddenly changed his tune and would not cooperate to do them. Digging deeper, I discovered that he had gone to a regional AME conference and the people conducting same put the fear of God into all of them. At Airventure 2019, I sought out and confronted the head regional AME over the issue. You shoulda heard the dog and pony show he gave me. He was a nice enough guy but it became obvious to me that there is a subset of AME’s — starting in OKC — that resent BasicMed being shoved up their (deleted) by Sen Inhofe. I then met with Sen. Inhofe at his briefing and told him the story. He put his staff on me and I brought it formally to his attention later. Bottom line … the FAA AME community is scaring AME’s.

    Just a couple of days ago on another online aviation forum, there was an article about the FAA’s proposed changes to LSA. In it, the writer says that rule changes have been “discussed” since 2017, started to “take shape” in 2019 and now — two years later — when it would be reasonable to expect an NPRM to be published, the FAA is going to be doing a “full internal review of the proposal known as LSA 2023” which is mandated by Congress. Huh! Six years to get to something substantive for MOSAIC. This isn’t about BasicMed but it showcases the molasses slow speed at which the FAA runs … yet it expects us to be poifect in every respect and right now.

    It is obvious to me that there are individual fiefdoms within FAA where the groups are running amok and unsupervised by the Administrator. Since everyone is required to do a Flight Review every two years, why is even BasicMed necessary? If I can find the airport, figure out how to start and fly my airplane, bring it back in usable status, talk on the radio and have all my physical parts … that oughta be enough. As far as I am concerned, even BasicMed is too much and unneeded.

    These people excel at only one thing … making simple stuff hard since 1958! It’s time to put the original Mission Statement back on them … which includes “promulgation of aviation.”

  11. From 2008 to 2017, there were 85 accidents with incapacitation as primary or contributing factors. Eleven involved pilots flying under Sport Pilot, eight involved pilots without valid medicals. Only one involved a pilot on BasicMed, but of course the program wasn’t in effect through most of the time period.

    Probably more important, there were only 19 cases of medical incapacitation with passengers onboard (2008-2017). Only ten those cases resulted in a fatality other than the pilot. Twenty-two total fatalities, an average of 2.2 per year.

    So you might save two people a year with a massive, draconian medical program. But it’d never be perfect, of course. About a third of those 85 accidents involved Commercial and ATP pilots with valid Class 1 or Class 2 physicals. Considering the risk to the non-flying public (some of the ATP incapacitations occurred with paying passengers aboard), the FAA should be tightening THOSE programs, not bleating about BasicMed.

  12. Can’t identify Doctors????? Every physician (and medical provider) has a US Govt issued National Provider Identifier (NPI) number and data base entry, in which the FAA can look up anything it wants to know about every provider in the USA.

    This is just another attempt to restrict our Freedom to Fly.

    I agree with the FAA that Basic Med needs work. The entire 3rd Class Medical need to be replaced by a DL Medical with biannual online course incorporated into the biannual flight review.

    • BINGO, Barry … exactly what I said. The FAA is fond of saying that the proof is in the puddin’ these days … why not make THAT the litmus test? Performance Based Medicals performed coincidentally w/ the Flight Review. Why the CFI could even ask you to show your DL such that on the date you did the flight, you had one. MY CFI wanted to see the BasicMed certificate, too. Flight Reviews don’t really follow a hard and fast syllabus but maybe they ought to. A form to put checkmarks on just like the Basic Med forms. Among the items, does the pilot have a Driver’s License. Problem solved. See how easy that was.

  13. Basic Med turned out to be a basic pain in the a** for me. My own physician refused to participate as did several more in my local area. The nearest provider turned out to be 75 miles away. Finally went to my local AME and paid $150 for my class 3 exam. Will do the same next time around. Not worth jumping through all the hoops and then not being able to find a local provider.

    • I’m sorry that you found BasicMed a PITA, Pete … but 56,000 pilots in the US apparently did not. I think that’s about a third or more of the active recreational pilots. If so … then it’s a success.

    • It was actually really simple for me. I still have my 3rd-class, but I had my personal doctor sign me off for BasicMed too, partly to see if he would. AOPA has a really good document that describes the process for your doctor, so I printed it off and dropped it off at my doctor’s office about a week before my exam. Once they realize it’s no different than many other medical waivers they sign for patients, it’s not a big deal. And I had the BasicMed papers signed as part of my annual physical that year, so I didn’t have to pay for a separate medical exam.

  14. “The FAA can’t track the hours flown by pilots.” We’ve heard this old canard for years–I saw it in a pre-WW II Air Facts magazine. FAA can’t seem to be able to track the true accident rate (“because we don’t have the precise number of hours flown.”

    How about THIS solution?: Every aircraft has to have an annual inspection–airplanes, helicopters, gliders, balloons, homebuilts, LSAs. Rather than have pilots send in individual entries (a mound of paperwork), just have the Aircraft Inspector or A&P send in the information on the aircraft they have done an annual inspection upon in the last year? Simple, inexpensive, requires no more FAA inspectors, no cheating, minimal paperwork, minimal time for compliance, and anonymous.

    It’s the only way we will ever get the true picture of the number of hours flown, so we can come up with ACTUAL numbers of accidents. If the FAA can’t do this simple step, it is because they DO NOT REALLY WANT THIS INFORMATION.

    • I don’t think you will ever see a government agency streamline a process. They produce no product, don’t have to realize a profit and have no competitors…where’s the incentive?

  15. So as I read this article, it seems to me that the FAA is having a positive experience with BasicMed. It’s the OIG that’s not. The Senior Auditor said they were happy with it so far. Personally I think they should eliminate the 3rd class all together and go with self certifying. I have a 2nd class and it was a process that took literally less than 10 minutes. Hope they don’t read that. I think the whole medical assessment process is so enshrined in Bureaucracy that OK city is fighting for their lively hoods.

  16. I did Basic Med in lieu of renewing my 3rd class medical this last year. Basic Med met the type of flying I’m doing now perfectly. I’d like to do flight instruction part time after I retire in a couple years. If so I’ll have to go back to the 3rd class medical for that.

    Personally I noted a couple things doing Basic Med. The out of pocket was less cost. My doctor’s office billed my health insurance copay for some “standard” health follow up I would have had anyway so I paid $25.00 out of pocket instead of the cost of an AME exam. My doctor gave me a more thorough examination than I ever received from an AME for a Third Class Medical in over 20 years of 3rd class medicals in multiple states with varied AME’s. My physician went through every item on the examination list provided for the Basic Med exam plus a bit more as he knows me and wants me competent doing whatever I chose to do, flying, driving, motorcycling etc.

    I agree with other comments that you would think DL validation and physician licensing should be straight forward to validate. Since it’s all handled by states may it’s not as simple as it should be.

    I believe Basic Med is a good program and it is working and indeed very low risk. Third Class Medical or Basic Med we’re responsible for assessing our health to fly each time we go. This will date me if the name J Mac McClellan rings a bell from Flying Magazine articles of the past. He once noted in an article that any class of medical only proved we were fit to fly that moment the AME handed us the piece of paper he’d just signed off on. After that each day and flight was up to us to assess rather or not to go.

    I am glad to see programs such as Basic Med as well as programs from the FAA to allow special issuance medicals. One of the saddest days my dad had was knowing that after heart bypass surgery his left seat flying days were done. He went on to live 27 more years of which at least 10 he would have been fine and healthy flying. If the FAA had special issuance in the 70s my dad apparently was unaware.

    Wishing you all tailwinds!

    • You can instruct without any medical of any kind (provided you aren’t required to act as PIC), so you can instruct with BasicMed as well. It only gets complicated if you’re instructing someone who is also using BasicMed. At least, that’s my understanding of how it works. I agree that it does make it a little simpler with a 3rd-class, though, which is why I’ve kept my 3rd even though I also have BasicMed.

      • > You can instruct without any medical of any kind (provided you aren’t required to act as PIC)

        More info on that:

        aopa.org: Teaching without a medical: Flunking your flight physical doesn’t have to ground you as an instructor

        Regarding examiners (DPEs), they require a medical, which I have always found strange. A possible justification is for the time when an applicant is under the hood I suppose. but more likely it’s just historical or an FAA power thing.

        faa.gov: Designated Pilot Examiners (DPE)

        Some actual history: I was flying/training in Honolulu around 1998, and a case came up where an elderly DPE was investigated for not having an FAA medical, even though he was only examining previously-licensed pilots who did have medicals. No doubt this affected a lot of his rating signoffs at the time, and there weren’t enough DPEs to just “retire” one.

        Another fun fact: there was a Seneca 1 or 2 on the field that everybody used for twin training. FAA staff rented it one day – and pranged it – total loss, but more importantly, that made it difficult to find an equivalent twin.

        If anybody has a more up-to-date reference on DPEs and medicals, please add a comment below.

  17. I recall the creation of the Department of Transportation in 1965. I knew it was idiotic then. It still is. It created a giant bureaucracy on top of another. What pray tell do railroads have to do with aviation. Or highways with aviation? Nothing. Yet we now have DOTs OIG intervening in aviation matters as well as the FAA. A properly run FAA is more qualified to address aviation matters. Adding DOT causes a loss of accountability. They can pass the buck to the other agency, where you cannot pin them down. Remember when the petition for relaxing light sport aircraft definitions to include more GA aircraft? It died at DOT, not the FAA, after “review” by DOT. (thought probably an under the table deal with the FAA). The whole rule making process should include stake holders with voting rights. For example the stakeholders might consist of Airlines, AOPA, manufacturers, and FAA. This would eliminate arbitrary and dictatorial rules with no recourse. The voting weights might be allocated in a way that balances safety with other interests.

  18. Let’s be honest: A flight physical is akin to the security theater we get with the TSA and scheduled airlines. A medical fitness sign off from a doctor is only good on the day you receive it.