June 3, 2008
The FAA has agreed to expand a process to reduce the delay in obtaining or renewing a special-issuance medical certificate (commonly called a "waiver.")
Acting on a longstanding AOPA suggestion, Federal Air Surgeon Jon Jordan, M.D. has agreed that, under some circumstances, aviation medical examiners (AMEs) may issue time-limited certificates at the time of examination.
Currently, pilots are forced to wait up to four months for a special-issuance medical while the FAA reviews the application in Oklahoma City.
"This is a monumental step forward," said Lance Nuckolls, AOPA director of regulatory and certification policy. "It demonstrates that Dr. Jordan and his top managers really want to fix the medical casework backlog."
The process will allow an AME to obtain verbal authorization from the FAA to issue a medical certificate at the time of examination. That would allow a pilot to continue flying while waiting for a formal medical review by the FAA's Aeromedical Certification Division in Oklahoma City.
Most pilots already get their certificates directly from the AME. But there are some 15 "disqualifying" medical conditions (such as heart disease or diabetes) that an AME must defer to the FAA. There are some other conditions (such as some types of skin cancer) that, while not disqualified by regulation, still must be deferred to the FAA as well.
If these medical conditions are being properly managed and pose no risk to aviation safety, however, the FAA can grant a special-issuance medical. ( Visit AOPA Online for more information on medical certification.)
But due to the backlog of cases awaiting review in Oklahoma City, it's not uncommon for pilots to be grounded for months waiting for the FAA to issue their "waivers." The FAA's new expanded waiver process is a way to work around that backlog.
To obtain a medical certificate directly from an AME, a pilot will need to bring all necessary documentation concerning his medical history to the doctor's office. (AOPA's medical certification department can advise pilots on what tests and other documentation will be needed to obtain a special-issuance medical certificate. Call 800/USA-AOPA for help.)
If the AME believes the pilot's documentation and medical history will satisfy the FAA's requirements for a special-issuance medical certificate, the doctor will then call either the FAA regional flight surgeon or the FAA Aeromedical Certification Division. After that phone consultation, the FAA may verbally authorize the AME to issue the certificate, valid for a specific length of time.
The AME will then forward the pilot's medical information to the authorizing physician at the FAA, who will complete the formal medical review.
"Most AMEs aren't yet familiar with this procedure," said AOPA Medical Certification Director Gary Crump. "Pilots might suggest that their AME call AOPA to get the details."
Dr. Jordan agreed to the new procedure during an aviation medical "summit meeting" at Oshkosh in July involving the FAA, EAA, AOPA, and the Civil Aviation Medical Association. During a discussion of ways to reduce the medical certificate processing backlog, AOPA renewed its suggestion that AMEs be given authority to issue time-limited special-issuance medical certificates.
AOPA has long been an advocate of expanded AME authority. The "immediate waiver" proposal just approved was part of a 1997 AOPA initiative to improve the pilot medical certification process. (See " AOPA launches major initiative to improve pilot medical certification process.")
"This procedure won't work for all special issuance cases," said Crump, "but there will be more pilots who now will be flying rather than waiting."
The 360,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest pilot organization. Advocacy on medical certification is just one of AOPA's initiatives to reduce the regulatory burden and cost of flying for all general aviation pilots.
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