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Government issues stiff penalties for medical certification falsification

Government issues stiff penalties for medical certification falsification

For many pilots, a periodic visit to the aviation medical examiner to renew their medical certificates is a routine ritual that goes hand in hand with the privilege of flying. Complacency sometimes fosters carelessness, however, and can result in an inadvertent omission of what the FAA would consider pertinent medical information from the medical application. If you make an inadvertent oversight, and the FAA picks up on it, a letter of explanation and supportive medical documentation will usually resolve the issue before it gets out of hand.

Intentional falsification is quite a different story. For example, the U.S. Department of Justice recently handed down indictments against a pilot who, several years ago, made knowingly false statements on FAA medical certificate applications. Although prosecutions in cases involving falsification of a federal legal document are not highly publicized, the FAA and Justice Department can and do impose severe penalties on those who fraudulently misrepresent their medical histories when completing the Application for Airman Medical Certificate, FAA Form 8500-8.

This prosecutorial authority is not hidden in some bureaucratic guidebook; it's stated right on the medical application. "Whoever knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact, or who makes any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representations, or entry, may be fined up to $250,000 or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both."

Although allowed under the statute, the criminal penalties of fine and imprisonment are not frequently exercised. However, the FAA generally imposes the revocation of all airman certificates and medical certificates. A revocation is much more serious than a suspension and results in loss of all certificates for a specified period of time. But it doesn't stop there. In order to regain the revoked certificates, the pilot will have to retake all written examinations and flight tests for those certificates. And the actions remain on the pilot's FAA record for years.

According to the FAA's Office of Chief Counsel, there are only two exceptions to the revocation sanction. One involves falsification of a single DUI conviction or conviction for simple possession of a drug. The falsification of a single DUI generally results in revocation of any current medical certificates and suspension of airman certificates for 60 days. The falsification of a single drug conviction for simple possession generally results in revocation of any current medical certificates and suspension of airman certificates for 180 days. If the falsification involves any other information in addition to the single DUI or simple possession drug conviction, or there are multiple falsified DUI or drug convictions, then all airman and medical certificates generally will be subject to revocation. Falsified drug convictions for more than simple possession generally result in the revocation of all airman and medical certificates.

A second possible exception may arise when a falsification is self-reported to the FAA before the FAA has discovered that the application was falsified. The FAA will consider imposing a suspension instead of a revocation, depending on the circumstances at the time of the disclosure.

If you have questions about this or any medical certification issue, you can speak with the medical certification specialists in the AOPA Pilot Information Center. The specialists are available weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time by phone (800/872-2672) or e-mail.

Updated: January 3, 2006, 6:46 p.m. EST

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