Medical advocacy in Washington
While one AOPA team was working Oklahoma City, another was in Washington, D.C., pressing for progress on multiple medical issues important to AOPA members.
In meetings with Federal Air Surgeon Dr. Fred Tilton and other top FAA medical officials, AOPA learned that the agency is favorably considering the association's request for special issuance medical certification for some pilots using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) antidepressant medications.
As would be expected, the FAA has some concerns, including a worry about increasing the medical backlog as more pilots apply for special issuance certification. The FAA intends to work with the American Psychiatric Association and AOPA as it further refines a protocol for safe use of SSRIs by active pilots.
The FAA also plans to test its MedXPress online medical application in several regions later this year. This will allow pilots to complete the 8500-8 medical application form online prior to going to the aviation medical examiner's (AME's) office. That reduces the amount of paperwork processed and speeds the doctor's office visit for the pilot.
AOPA volunteered to e-mail pilots in the test regions to let them know when the online form is ready.
AOPA also renewed its request to interface the association's TurboMedical ® online form with the FAA's form.
The advantage for the pilot is that AOPA's TurboMedical ® is interactive - it checks for errors, omissions, and medical conditions that might require additional documentation before a certificate could be issued.
The strategy on all of these issues may be decided in Washington, but much of the nitty-gritty is worked out in offices in the FAA's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City.
So this week, an AOPA team led by President Phil Boyer, flew into Will Rogers World (OKC) to facilitate progress on many issues important to AOPA members.
"Two things impressed me there," said Boyer. "Many of the FAA employees and managers in Oklahoma City are AOPA members and have their hearts in general aviation.
"And the FAA has really gone digital. In a few short years, they've leapt from paper to bits and bytes, and that means good things for GA pilots."
But the FAA, like just about any large organization, sometimes gets trapped in organizational silos, with one office not communicating as well as it might with another.
"I think part of what we did in Oklahoma City was to break through some of those silos," said Boyer, "and help some people see things with a GA focus."
For example, AOPA has been pushing for more satellite-based precision instrument approaches to GA airports. These GPS-WAAS LPV approaches fly just like an ILS but cost about $50,000 to implement, as opposed to the $1.3 million to install and certify a traditional ILS, not to mention the continuing costs to maintain and flight check the system.
But current FAA airport design standards require a full ILS infrastructure - wide runways, parallel taxiways, large clear zones, approach lights, etc. - to get the full benefits of an LPV approach to a smaller GA airport. That means many GA airports that could use LPV approaches can't get them because they can't afford the infrastructure.
"Our smaller, slower aircraft don't need the kind of margins that the airliners do," said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory and certification policy. "One size really doesn't fit all."
And the FAA folks who design the approaches in Oklahoma City agree. "It's the airport standards holding us up," they told the AOPA group.
So AOPA also met with the FAA's airport standards folks and talked a little GA reality. "I think they'd been too focused on big airports for too long," said Boyer, "but I think we may now see some changes in the future."
August 10, 2006