The FAA sent a letter about my medical. Now what?

January 28, 2013

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

We occasionally hear from members who walked out of the aviation medical examiner’s (AME’s) office with a medical in hand, and then, sometimes months later, receive a letter from the FAA questioning their eligibility to hold a medical certificate. There are a couple of scenarios that could be conspiring here to raise your blood pressure.

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If you reported to the FAA for the first time a new medical condition, medication, or specific visit or treatment from a healthcare provider, you should have provided your AME with, as a minimum, a “status report” from the health care provider explaining the condition or medication usage or treatment. That report should provide at least a summary of the symptoms you had, the diagnosis, treatment or treatment plan, and prognosis. If you did have the report, and the AME certified you on that basis, the AME’s office may not have “snail-mailed” the records to the FAA after the exam was transmitted electronically.

“Issued exams,” those applications in which the AME issues a medical certificate to the airman, are read by the FAA computer and processed directly “to file” in the FAA’s sophisticated record-keeping system. The unissued exams, or “deferred” applications, where no medical is issued by the AME, are cases that go into the “fetch queue” at the FAA to be reviewed by one of the legal instrument examiners when the application comes in via the Internet. The FAA deals with those cases as higher priorities because those pilots are grounded until the FAA approves the case and mails the airman a certificate. The issued exams are still subjected to a quality control review by an FAA staff person “when able,” and that usually means three to four months after the exam.

If the “quality control” review turns up something on the application that doesn’t support an issuance, the FAA will still send out an “AI” (additional information) request to the airman asking for whatever records are needed to confirm that you are in fact eligible for the certificate. If you get one of those letters and you know the information was provided to the AME, the first call you make should be to your AME to see if the records got filed in the AME’s office by mistake. That happens quite a bit. If the AME assures you that the records were mailed, just to be safe, get a copy of the reports (it’s best if you keep copies of everything that goes to the FAA just in case this happens) and send them to the FAA yourself. That way, you control the “chain of custody” for those records. Records can also get “lost” after they get to the FAA. All hard copy files are now scanned into digital format and incorporated into the airman’s medical file. That’s why it’s also important to make sure your full name, date of birth, and address are on each page you send the FAA.

The FAA letter gives you 30 days to provide the requested information before a denial of your application for “failure to provide the requested information” letter comes to your door. The FAA tells us they are doing away with the 30-day letter and will now give pilots 60 days to provide requested information before the denial letter goes out. Even with this extra time, dealing with health care providers can easily eat up that time, so don’t procrastinate if you receive a request for more information.

Start the preflight before you start the engine, and get all your records together so the AME has as much information as possible on which to base a decision to issue or defer. Better yet, enroll in AOPA Pilot Protection Services at the Plus level and AOPA will review your medical records before you submit them to make sure all necessary reports are included. The FAA encourages AMEs to call either their regional flight surgeons or the Aerospace Medical Certification Division in Oklahoma City if there is any question about how to handle an application. Many times, the issue can be resolved with a phone call, so chances are, with good documentation for the AME to refer to, a phone conference with the FAA can result in an office issuance. Definitely better than a deferral!

Gary Crump