Prepare a winning case

January 14, 2013

Warren Silberman

Warren Silberman

  • Former Manager, FAA Aerospace Medical Certification 
  • Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine 
  • Expert in Aerospace/Preventive Medicine 
  • Pilot since 1986

This has always been a timely topic to discuss. I am going to take you step by step in preparing a case for presentation to the FAA's Aerospace Medical Certification Division.

First and foremost, when you develop a medical condition, take care of yourself and do what your physicians recommend is best for your particular medical situation. When you have time, start learning all you can about what I call the “aeromedical” aspects of your condition. You need to visit the AOPA medical certification Web page and see if your condition is listed there. You also should visit the FAA website to see what else you can learn. The Guide to Aviation Medical Examiners that the FAA issues to all AMEs is available for you and your treating physician to review.

To continue reading, please log in or join AOPA now to have access to these exclusive expert resources.

When it is time for your physician to prescribe your treatment, check the AOPA Accepted Medications Database or call the association’s medical certification specialists to see if the medication is acceptable.

I am going to give you some generic things you would need to collect. Oh, by the way, it is always best to get all the medical records, evaluations, and testing performed and collected in one “bundle” before you mail it to the FAA!

If the condition you developed resulted in a hospitalization, you need to obtain the admission history and physical examination, the hospital discharge summary, any pertinent X-ray/scan reports, operative reports, if you had surgery, and pathology reports, if any tissue(s) were removed. Check with AOPA to see if the FAA has a “mandatory” recovery or “grounding period.” You then need to collect the documents, evaluations, and testing that you will need to present to the FAA to demonstrate to them what your current status. Anything “current” that the FAA will require to make a determination cannot be older than 90 days prior to the time that you mail your case into them. Depending on the condition, and obviously, it depends on the actual condition as to what you will need to obtain, these tests/evaluations can be performed toward the end of the grounding period. 

I know that I must sound like a recording to you, but whatever testing you need to obtain should be done exactly as the FAA requests it. If your physician suggests a different test than the FAA wants, or if he or she wants to perform it a different way, do not take their advice without checking with the FAA first. (You can do this by checking with the AOPA medical certification specialists, and if they need to, they will use their contacts with the FAA to ask the question.) Failure to follow the FAA's suggestion may well result in a denial and the necessity to repeat the testing as the FAA desired in the first place. If your treating physician does not want to follow the FAA's suggestions and your flying is important to you, I would find a different physician who would work with you.

If you are not yet signed up for AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services, you need to. For less than $100, it’s foolish not to have this assistance. The AOPA Pilot Protection Services medical certification staff will get updates on your case to determine what additional information is needed. For Plus level participants, they’ll review your medical records before you send it to the FAA. Then they’ll track it through the system, get updates, find out what the holdup is, and work with the FAA to resolve it quickly.

You are now ready to send the packet. I recommend that you make copies of everything you send to the FAA because things can get lost. Send a cover letter from yourself that is short, explains what happened to you, and that you are providing the FAA with these records, test results, etc. Also include what class medical certificate you desire. 

One last important point: The FAA will not review a case unless you have a current medical examination on file at the FAA. The medical examination can be for any class. Meaning that if you need a second-class medical certificate but it has “lapsed” to a third-class, this is still OK because you have what they consider an “active” examination. To make my example clearer, if you are 50 years old and generally maintain a second class medical certificate but it is now two years and past the end of the month in which you obtained an examination, they would not review your paperwork until you obtained a new examination. At the time of the examination your AME would then “defer” the decision about granting you a medical certificate to the FAA.  

Stay tuned to these articles. I will be discussing some common, specific medical conditions and what information the FAA requires. 

For more expert advice and professional assistance with protecting your pilot and medical certificates all year round, visit and consider joining AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services ( ).