The AME-Assisted Special Issuance (aka “Six Year Authorization”)
In the May issue of Fly Well, we spoke some about the importance finding an AME who “speaks airplane” and who advocates for his/her pilots with the FAA. If you fly under a Special Issuance Authorization, you may be aware that sometimes, there is a delay in the issuance or reissuance of your medical certificate. Processing delays have been a long-time chronic pain, to use a little medical lingo, not only for pilots, but also for the advocacy groups like AOPA who represent pilots, and, yes, even the FAA.
Years ago, AOPA lobbied the FAA fairly aggressively to streamline the medical review process by allowing Aviation Medical Examiners more authority to issue medical certificates that required “Authorizations,” the legal term for a special issuance. From that dialog, the FAA Federal Air Surgeon at the time, Dr. Jon Jordan, and the current Manager of the Aerospace Medical Certification Division, Dr. Warren Silberman, developed the concept of the AME-Assisted Special Issuance, or Six Year Authorization, that allows an AME to reissue a medical certificate that is granted under a Special Issuance to the pilot upon presentation of the required medical testing that is specified under the terms of the Authorization letter. The process included a review of the “low fruit” of medical conditions that posed the least likelihood of causing sudden or subtle incapacitation in flight, and now includes about 35 conditions such as arthritis, atrial fibrillation, hyper and hypothyroidism, kidney stones, sleep apnea, and several different cancers.
Recognizing that a Special issuance medical certificate carries with it a time limitation, usually 12 months or so, let’s use as an example of a pilot exercising Private Pilot privileges and who needs only a 3rd Class medical certificate, and who had an intracoronary stent placed six months prior, has completed the required cardiovascular evaluation, and has submitted the records to the AME and undergone a new FAA 3rd class flight physical. The AME cannot issue a medical certificate the first time, so the application is “deferred” and the records are provided to the FAA for review, which is favorable, and the airman is granted a special issuance medical certificate valid for twelve months.
At the time of the next re-evaluation twelve months later, the pilot can now take his current evaluation (stress test, lab work, and narrative status report from the treating physician) to the AME, the AME will review the records, and if satisfied that there is no “adverse change” in the medical status, can reissue a new medical certificate valid for another twelve months (or whatever time is specified by the FAA.) The pilot walks out the door with a new medical with no interruption of flying privileges, the AME sends to records to the FAA, and the FAA has one less case they have to squeeze into the review cycle, meaning they can work on another of the thousands of cases waiting in the queue.
There is nothing magical about the duration of six years. That’s just the time frame the FAA came up with when the concept was being developed. We’re now at about 7 years since the first Six Year Authorizations were issued and as they come up for review, based upon the status of the medical conditions, the FAA is renewing them in most cases for another six years.
The Six Year Authorization is the best possible scenario for a pilot who holds a special issuance medical, and we encourage members to take advantage of it rather than continuing to send records to the FAA and expecting a quick turnaround. Sometimes it happens, but the normal processing time is about 75-90 days; not such a good option when compared to an in-office issuance by the aviation medical examiner.
For those of you who will be attending the AOPA Aviation Summit in Hartford later this month, I will be presenting two talks on medical certification, including one on special issuances, and will also be doing a 30 minute segment in the Learning Pavilion on preparing medical records for presentation to the FAA. Hope you can be there, and if so, be sure to stop by and say hello.
September 13, 2011