New AOPA Online service expedites pilot medical tracking

October 3, 2008

New AOPA Online service expedites pilot medical tracking

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has introduced an online "status request form" to help AOPA members waiting for FAA action on deferred medical certificates. The form helps minimize delays and decreases the chance of a lost file.

"Currently, the FAA is several months behind in processing special issuance medical applications," said Gary Crump, AOPA director of medical certification. "This new member service should help AOPA members get their special issuance medical certificates with as little delay and bureaucratic hassle as possible."

The new form, on a secure server in the members-only section of AOPA Online, allows AOPA members to submit basic medical information in confidence to the AOPA medical certification staff, which then follows up with the FAA.

FAA policy requires that an aviation medical examiner (AME) automatically deny a medical certificate to pilots with certain medical conditions, deferring the medical application to the FAA's Aeromedical Division in Oklahoma City for further investigation. With additional tests, documentation, and approval by FAA officials, so-called "special issuances" good for 12 months can authorize pilots to fly despite common problems such as a heart murmur or arrhythmia or previous angioplasty or bypass surgery.

But lack of funding for an FAA modernization program to handle medical paperwork, coupled with inherent aeromedical system problems, has caused delays of up to four months to occur between the time an AME submits the special issuance medical application paperwork and grant or denial of the certificate. Although special issuance medical applications may be submitted up to three months in advance, pilots are often needlessly grounded.

"When you add it all up, it's not uncommon for a pilot to spend six months out of every 12 engaged in the FAA renewal process and grounded up to three months a year awaiting action from Oklahoma City," said Crump. "And it's costly, too. Some pilots spend $1,000 to $3,000 or more each year to obtain such special issuance medicals."

The new AOPA Online medical status form will help AOPA medical certification staff keep pending special issuance medical applications on track and not 'misplaced' before a decision is reached.

More AOPA action on medical certification

Earlier this year, in response to more than 550 complaints from AOPA members whose special issuance medical applications had been in various stages of review for months without resolution, AOPA mounted a "paperwork rescue mission" to FAA Aeromedical offices in Oklahoma City. That mission cleared almost 90 percent of older cases.

Last year, AOPA won FAA agreement for AMEs to issue time-limited medical certificates for pilots requiring special issuance certificates, allowing those pilots to continue flying while a full FAA review of their medical application was under way. The time period allowed for those time-limited medical certificates is still under negotiation, however.

Even earlier, in 1997, AOPA proposed four specific actions to reduce the burden of the special issuance process on both the pilot community and the FAA. The four proposals, still under FAA consideration, are:

Automatic renewal

The FAA should allow automatic extension or renewal of a special issuance authorization provided the pilot has submitted required documentation showing no adverse change in pathology.

Certificate duration

The duration of a special issuance certificate should start from the date of issuance, rather than application date, to ensure a full 12-month renewal.

AME privileges

AMEs should be granted more authority to renew special issuance authorizations or to certify pilots who provide complete reports showing no adverse change in medical status.

Limited medical certification

The FAA should expand use of the "valid only when accompanied by another qualified pilot" medical certification to allow Part 91 pilots to fly with another pilot aboard. This option is currently available only on second class medicals (required for commercial pilots flying for hire) for those flying as part of a two-pilot crew.

The 365,000-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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December 20, 2000