What's so special about a Special Issuance?

September 22, 2009

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Gary Crump

Gary Crump

  • Director, AOPA Medical Certification Services 
  • 25 years assisting AOPA members 
  • Former operating room technician and Emergency Medical Technician 
  • Pilot since 1973

The FAA created the special issuance authorization to provide more flexibility in granting medical certificates to persons with serious medical conditions. There are 15 medical conditions identified in Part 67 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, the medical standards for airmen, that are disqualifying “by medical history or clinical diagnosis.” If you have any of these conditions, the only way the FAA can grant a medical certificate is with an “authorization.” The FAA isn’t limited only to the fifteen conditions, though. A special issuance can be granted for any medical condition that could progress adversely.

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An authorization is a great tool that the FAA is using for many medical conditions or illnesses. The downside is that, in many cases, the authorization is valid only for twelve months, and you may have to have new testing done each year to demonstrate to the FAA that your condition remains stable. For many other conditions, the FAA has created a six-year authorization that allows your aviation medical examiner to reissue a medical certificate to you in the office, so there won’t be any lapse in your flying privileges.

The time limitations are necessary because the conditions that require the SI are considered to be progressive, meaning that the condition may advance and result in adverse symptoms that could be incapacitating. The FAA time-limits the certificate to allow a more frequent look at your medical status to make certain that doesn’t happen.

But what about all the other medical conditions that aren’t included among those fifteen disqualifiers? Well, the regulations cover that, too, in a couple of different places. Part 67 includes a “General Medical Condition” catchall that makes disqualifying any “organic, functional, or structural disease, defect, or limitation” that the Federal Air Surgeon (the FAA’s chief medical officer) finds to be disqualifying.

Also, FAR 61.53 places the responsibility of the pilot to determine medical fitness before each flight, and disqualifies a person from acting as pilot in command or as a required pilot flight crew member if he or she has a medical condition or is using a medication that makes the person unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate held.

Gary Crump