FAA announces end of paper medical certificate applications

January 27, 2012

The good news is, medical certificate applications submitted online should be processed more efficiently, medical certification processing errors should be reduced, and taxpayers should get a break on federal spending.

However, the transition away from paper applications for medical certificates presents AOPA with some concerns for pilots who don’t currently use computers, and the FAA is about to make it mandatory: As of Oct. 1, 2012, aviation medical examiners will no longer accept paper applications. Federal Air Surgeon Fred Tilton announced the coming change to AMEs in the latest medical bulletin, calling on flight physicians to “significantly increase” use of the MedXPress system.

The electronic medical certificate application system, introduced by the FAA in 2007, is relatively easy to use, and offers several benefits to computer-savvy pilots. Errors that once resulted from poor penmanship or transcription—errors that frequently resulted in delayed issuance of a medical certificate should no longer happen. The electronic system should also make application processing more efficient, with less time spent by AME and FAA staff. This, in turn, will allow the FAA staff to focus their efforts on the more complex medical certification cases that require additional time for review.

AOPA Director of Medical Certification Services Gary Crump noted other improvements will be made possible as the electronic system is enhanced in the future, such as automatic completion of data that does not change from one application to the next, along with a planned enhancement of the system that would allow AMEs to scan pilots’ medical records directly into the system from their offices.

The convenience of an online application comes with some risks, however, for pilots who do not have access to a wired Internet connection at their home or office. Using a public computer at a library, or a computer networked through a public wireless “hot spot,” such as at a coffee shop or Internet café, could potentially compromise the security of medical information—especially if the user is unfamiliar with the need to completely log out of a program before leaving the computer for the next user.

Between now and Oct. 1, AOPA will launch an education effort to be certain that pilots become familiar with the online application. AOPA will continue to work closely with the FAA to address members’ concerns that may arise between now and the implementation date.

AOPA also will seek clarification of the future procedure for modifications to the application itself. The paper document, Form 8500-8, has been subject to approval by the Office of Management and Budget before any changes can be made, and it is not yet clear whether elimination of the paper document will affect that procedure.

“On balance, this is a step in the right direction,” Crump said. “We encourage AOPA members to use the online application and contact us about any problems or issues that they encounter with MedXPress. We will act quickly to address with the FAA any problems brought to our attention.”

Tilton, in his January briefing to AMEs, said a tracking system is planned that will allow pilots and examiners to check the status of applications; future enhancements could also allow for centralized access to medical documents and physician notes. Tilton noted that that the FAA currently spends $150,000 a year to print, store, and distribute the paper Form 8500-8, and the long-planned transition to an all-electronic application system is in keeping with laws and presidential orders intended to cut costs and increase efficiency.