Experts give tips on keeping your medical
Pilots whose medical application is deferred wait in anticipation for a decision from the FAA that can determine their flying future. The wait can be nerve-wracking.
The good news, a panel of aeromedical experts told pilots Nov. 7, is that the FAA is continuously working to get more pilots safely in the air. Panelists advised the audience to take an active role in preparing and following through on their medical applications, and not to let concerns about flying interfere with taking care of their health.
The FAA grants special issuance authorizations to allow pilots with disqualifying medical conditions to take to the sky. Less than 0.02 percent of medical applications get a final denial, Federal Air Surgeon Dr. Fred Tilton told pilots in a medical certification forum at AOPA Aviation Summit. AOPA Director of Medical Certification Gary Crump moderated the forum, which included medical certification experts from the FAA, AOPA, and EAA.
“Thirty years ago many people who would have been grounded for life can now fly,” said Dr. Jack Hastings, Senior AME, neurologist, FAA neurology consultant, and member of EAA Aeromedical Advisory Council. Tilton noted that people who have a special issuance or a waiver have fewer medical incidents than those who don’t, evidence that the FAA has been able to grant more medical certificates while keeping American airspace safe from a medical perspective.
Still, the medical certification process can be arduous and paperwork-heavy. Audience members asked the panel how to streamline the process and about specific conditions that can impact one’s ability to fly. If you’re not satisfied with your aviation medical examiner, you can change AMEs or notify the FAA of problems, the panelists said. Some AMEs review relatively few medical applications each year and may not be well-versed in specific special-issuance circumstances.
If a medical application is deferred, the applicant must wait for the FAA certification staff to review the case. The average processing time for special issuances is less than 30 days, said Dr. Warren Silberman, manager of the FAA Aerospace Medical Certification, but pilots slow down the process when they do not submit all the required documents to the FAA.
“See what you need to get, and get everything,” he said. (AOPA medical certification specialists will review pilots’ medical records to help smooth the process as part of the AOPA Medical Services Program.
The panel, which also included retinal ophthalmologist Dr. Ingrid Zimmer-Galler and Dr. Bruce Chien, Senior AME and a member of the AOPA Board of Aviation Medical Advisors, answered questions about laser refractive surgery, getting out from under a special issuance, and antidepressants. An announcement about a special issuance process to allow pilots to fly while using certain antidepressants may be on the horizon, Tilton said.
Regardless of the condition, pilots should not be blinded to health concerns by their desire to fly, the panelists noted.
“You shouldn’t treat your flying status. You should treat yourself,” Tilton said.
November 10, 2009