The Shape of Forms to Come

Your next medical certificate application will have a new look

August 1, 1999

The FAA likes forms, especially the paper kind. The agency makes us fill out lots of them. Documentation, it's called. Some forms have to be filled out more than once during our flying careers. The airman certificate rating application, Form 8710, is one that every pilot completes at least once since it's required for the issuance of an airman certificate upon completion of the flight test.

Another one is the airman medical certificate application, and, like the 8710, to the FAA it's an important legal document. For that reason, you should consider it important, too. It's going to be more so in the coming monthsbecause some significant changes have been made to the application. The new forms will be distributed to aviation medical examiners (AMEs) in September and will go into use on October 1, so the next time that you meet your AME to renew your medical, you will want to be aware of what's different.

The FAA has revised the form to reflect changes made to Part 67 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, Medical Standards, that took effect in September 1996 (see " Jogging to a Different Medical Standard," May 1996 Pilot). Because there were still several hundred thousand of the existing forms available, the FAA decided to give taxpayers a break and deplete that supply rather than destroy thousands of dollars worth of unused applications.

Unless you hold a first class medical and renew it every six months, a medical application isn't a form that most of us remember in great detail. For that reason, it's a good idea to read the instruction sheet that should be part of the form. If a sheet isn't available, ask for it. Take a few minutes the first time to familiarize yourself with the application. It may save you some frustration down the road if you make a mistake that neither you nor the AME catches. The FAA is very thorough in reviewing the forms, so if something doesn't look right, you'll hear about it.

When a draft copy of the new form was made available for review, AOPA saw an opportunity to offer some suggestions that would not only eliminate potential pitfalls for airmen, but would also help ease some of the delays in reviewing and processing medical applications. The FAA agreed and chose to adopt all of the suggestions.

One of the recommended changes will be found in item 17(a), which asks if you currently use any medication (prescription or nonprescription). If you are going to report a medication to the FAA for the first time, a letter from your treating physician should be provided to the aviation medical examiner so that the FAA will know the medical history behind the drug usage. There are several issues that come up when medications are used on a regular basis. One is the underlying need for the medication. What symptoms are being treated? Could the symptoms for which the medication is prescribed likely cause incapacitation?

The other concern is the likelihood of adverse side effects such as drowsiness or impaired judgement. If any medication is used regularly for specific symptoms, it should be reported. This supporting information will help the FAA process your application faster by not having to ask for information later. Some medications are prohibited. If you aren't sure about the drug that your doctor has prescribed, call the AOPA Pilot Information Center. A listing of many FAA-accepted medications is also available on AOPA Online.

If the FAA clears the medication, you will continue to report it on subsequent applications for as long as you're taking the drug. At AOPA's suggestion, however, the FAA will reprogram its mainframe computer so that when your next application is processed and indicates the same medication, the application won't be rejected — as it currently is. This could save many weeks of delay since the FAA staff won't have to manually review the application and generate a letter asking for another report from your doctor.

Herbal remedies and other nutritional supplements (alternative medicines) that are not considered medications do not need to be reported. Be aware, however, that some supplements may have the potential for adverse side effects that would make flying potentially unsafe.

A new question will appear as item 17(b). This question asks whether you wear near-vision contact lenses. Contacts that correct for distant vision alone are no problem, as long as the corrected visual acuity meets the standard for the class of medical you are applying for. The FAA considers the use of lenses to correct for near vision "inappropriate for aviation duties." Another lens correction technique that is not allowed currently is monovision correction; that's the wearing of a contact lens for distant vision in one eye, and one for near vision in the other eye. The language of the vision standards in Part 67 requires that we be able to see 20/20 (or 20/40 for third class) "or better in each eye separately with or without correction."

If one lens is used for distant correction and the other for near, each eye separately will not meet that standard. From a practical standpoint, too, if one lens is lost in flight (unlikely, but it could happen) the pilot could be left temporarily with monocular vision, or useful vision in only one eye. If the near-vision lens is gone, close-up vision is lost, and the instrument panel be-comes a blur — while if the distant lens ends up on the floor, the approaching distant runway may become essentially invisible.

For pilots who have problems with both near and distant vision, the better way to avoid a problem is to wear corrective lenses (either glasses or contacts) for distant vision, and have with you when you fly an extra pair of magnifying glasses for near vision. That also makes the FAA happier.

Although there are no substantive changes in section 18 — medical history — it still warrants a reminder. This section asks you about current or previous medical conditions that you have ever been diagnosed with, had, or presently have. Just read the question literally and provide your own interpretive definition to the conditions asked about. An example is the first item in the section, "Frequent or severe headaches." How do you define frequent and severe? The instructions don't offer the answer. You make that determination, but the same advice applies here as to the question on medication usage: If any response is a "Yes," send supporting documentation in with the application.

Item 18(n) has actually been relaxed somewhat. The question relates to substance dependence, failed drug tests, or substance abuse or use of illegal substances in the past two years. This question on the old application covered a five-year period. Question 18(v) asks about your experiences with alcohol-related or any other motor vehicle actions that resulted in a conviction or other administrative actions against your driving privileges. Administrative actions include suspension or revocation of your driver's license for any reason, and failure of or refusal to take a breath-analyzer test. Applicants with more than one DUI action or conviction will be scrutinized pretty closely before being issued a medical certificate. A single driving-under-the-influence conviction is not necessarily disqualifying, but subsequent DUI convictions raise the suspicion that there is an underlying alcohol (or other substance) abuse problem that might be disqualifying.

Any history of other misdemeanor or felony convictions is reported in item 18(w). Other convictions, depending on severity and frequency, might suggest possible underlying psychiatric or psychological problems that would require further evaluation.

Visits to health professionals within the last three years, including names, addresses, type of professional, and reasons for the visit, are requested in item 19. Read the instruction sheet carefully here. If you saw your family doctor for a regular annual physical exam, list that as the reason and it won't raise an eyebrow at the FAA. If you saw a cardiologist for a "heart arrhythmia," a little more documentation is in order. Again, reports from the treating physician need to be available to your aviation medical examiner. Sometimes the AME will be able to certify you on the spot, but not always. If the application is deferred, the delay will be considerable — maybe two months or longer, but still much shorter than if the documentation isn't available when the application is initially reviewed.

And you don't want to forget Item 20. The application isn't an official legal document until you sign it. When you add a signature, you are allowing the FAA to access the National Driver Register to confirm that what you indicated on the application about your driving history is complete and true to the best of your knowledge. The notice to the left of the Applicant's Declaration is worth reading, too, for it indicates the penalties for making intentionally false statements on the form. Five years in prison and a $250,000 fine are nothing to laugh about, but revocation of airman and medical certificates is also a real possibility if the FAA successfully prosecutes a case of falsification against you.

One of the major contributing factors to delays in processing applications is the lack of complete information on the form. In fact, as many as 40 percent of the 450,000 or so applications processed each year have some type of error that must be corrected before the application can be validated. The new application will now carry a bold-faced notice that the applicant must complete all 20 items on the form. Remember, the delays can be substantial if the application isn't completed or if necessary records aren't included with the application. If you don't have what you need at the time of your FAA examination, postpone the exam until you can get it. Your AME can hold a completed application for 10 days before sending it in. If your application is sent by itself and additional records are sent later, it is a major problem to get all that information together so it arrives at the right desk in the FAA's Aeromedical Certification Division. If you don't know what you need, talk to your AME well in advance of the appointment time, or better yet, call the Medical Certification department at AOPA.

Your medical examiner may already be using the FAA computer-based electronic transmission process, called the Aeromedical Certification Subsystem (AMCS), to send your completed application via phone modem to the FAA. By October, all AMEs will be using AMCS and the Internet to transmit medical applications. This is part of a multi-million-dollar FAA investment to streamline the medical certification process. If everything works as planned, the notorious delays that have plagued the FAA for years should be significantly reduced (we hope). Although progress is being made, it will be another year or so before we start to see a real improvement in the backlog.

One additional suggestion that AOPA offered the FAA was that a copy of the application be made available to the airman. So, the next time you fill out an application, remember to press hard; you are making your own official copy. By having that copy to refer to at the time of your next exam, you will know just what you reported previously and can avoid the risk of having to answer an FAA letter down the road. This, in turn, will eliminate extra work for the FAA.

As an AOPA member, you can contact the Medical Certification department for answers to your questions about the medical application, as well as any other medical certification-related issues. You can call the medical certification specialists on the AOPA Pilot Information Center (800/USA-AOPA, 872-2672). You can also access information 24 hours a day via AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/members/resources/medical.html) .


Links to other articles about the medical certification process and additional medical information for pilots are available on AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/pilot/links/links9908.shtml). Gary Crump is director of AOPA's Medical Certification department.