Delays shorten for special-issuance medicals

November 8, 2007

Delays shorten for special-issuance medicals

By AOPA ePublishing staff

If you have a medical condition that's keeping you on the ground, your chances of getting back in the air—quickly—are better now than ever before.

The average processing time for medical certificates, including special issuances, is now 30 days, with some cases as low as 15. And less than 0.01 percent of applicants are actually denied because they are medically unfit to fly. That's because the FAA is considering more serious medical conditions than before. (Just this year a heart transplant patient received his special-issuance third class medical certificate.)

"This is good news for pilots with heart conditions, cancer, diabetes, and other serious medical problems," said Gary Crump, director of AOPA's medical certification department. Crump and members of AOPA's government affairs staff met with the FAA's manager of the aerospace medical certification division in Oklahoma City, Okla., this week. "Only a year and a half ago, the special-issuance delays were peaking at 75 to 90 days."

Much of the improvements in the medical certification process stem from a nearly 10-year effort to switch the FAA's medical process from paper to electronic.

AOPA has been actively involved since the beginning of this "virtual medical certification system" and made several of the recommendations that the FAA has now implemented.

Aviation medical examiners (AMEs) are using an electronic medical application format that helps expedite the application process. Plus airman records are now electronic.

Also, AMEs are encouraged to contact their regional flight surgeon or the aeromedical division in Oklahoma City with questions about a pilot's medical application. In many cases, problems can be worked out over the telephone, and the pilot can walk out of the AME's office with a medical certificate in hand. This has significantly cut down on the number of deferred applications.

While the FAA has made its medical certification process more efficient, pilots still need to do their part to help speed their applications through the system.

If something in your medical history has changed since your last visit to the AME, call AOPA's medical certification specialists at 800/USA-AOPA to find out what paperwork you need to take with you to the flight physical. Also use AOPA's interactive TurboMedical form to find any potentially disqualifying medical condition so that you can gather the needed information to get your medical.

"Working with AOPA to get all of your medical records and reports in order before you go to your AME is important," Crump said. "Often, it can mean the difference between getting your medical that day or having to wait a couple of weeks."

November 8, 2007