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November 11, 2009

AOPA offers Congress a plan to combat medical certificate fraud

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) yesterday proposed a four-point plan to help the FAA combat the small number of falsified pilot medical certificates. AOPA President Phil Boyer told Congress July 17 that while the problem was very small, AOPA was concerned and would work with the FAA to solve it.

"Pilots are law-abiding people, and they don't want to defraud the government," said Boyer, testifying before the House aviation subcommittee. "And they don't want to fly unsafely."

Boyer said that only 0.25 percent of all general aviation accidents were caused by medical incapacitation, and only nine accidents in nine years were caused by the incapacitation of a pilot flying with a fraudulent medical certificate.

He also reminded the committee that pilots are required by regulation to "self-certify" that they're healthy enough to fly before every flight. "We're dealing with reasonable people who don't want to kill themselves and their family, very conservative people, who will ground themselves if they're taking a medication or have a medical situation that prevent them from flying safely that day."

A Department of Transportation inspector general's investigation had prompted the hearing. That investigation examined some 40,000 pilot records in Northern California and discovered that some pilots were also claiming Social Security disability payments. Those pilots would not have been issued medical certificates had the disability been disclosed to the FAA. The California U.S. attorney successfully prosecuted 45 pilots for fraud.

That led the aviation subcommittee to question if there were a problem with pilots lying about their medical conditions in order to obtain a medical certificate.

"AOPA does not condone any kind of falsification of flying records," Boyer told members of Congress. And while he reiterated that the vast majority of pilots were honest, he outlined a cooperative program with the aviation subcommittee and the FAA that could better guard against medically disqualified people fraudulently obtaining medical certificates.

First, the FAA should add a statement to the medical certification application warning pilots that some medical data would be shared with other agencies.

Second, a one-year amnesty program to encourage pilots to report all medical visits and conditions to the FAA. "Pilots sometimes forget to report a medical visit, particularly if it had nothing to do with something that would affect their flying."

Third, the FAA should establish a data-sharing program with other public agencies such as the Social Security Administration within the limits permitted by the Privacy Act.

And finally, AOPA would work with the subcommittee and the FAA to educate pilots about properly reporting all pertinent medical information, and about the severe penalties and safety consequences of failing to do so.

"We greatly appreciate you and your organization taking this issue very seriously and coming up with a four-point plan," subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) told Boyer. "It's an action plan that is workable, makes sense, and is very reasonable."

Said ranking committee member Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), "AOPA is one of our great partners in the effort to keep the skies safe."

With 412,000 members, AOPA is the world's largest civil aviation association. Some two thirds of all U.S. pilots are members of the association, which is dedicated to protecting the interests of general aviation.

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Editors: AOPA provides two important resources for covering general aviation news - an online newsroom and a television studio and uplink. Contact us for more information.

July 18, 2007