John Yodice owns and flies a Cessna 310 and a Piper Cub.
From the number of calls that I am getting, and the seriousness of the consequences, falsification of medical applications is a matter that deserves attention in this column. None of us would condone the intentional falsification of an FAA medical application form, however most of us who must complete the form can attest that it is quite complicated and sometimes seemingly irrelevant to the issue of medical qualification. At the same time, the FAA has been especially diligent in bringing revocation proceedings against any airman suspected of falsifying his or her application. The FAA does not easily abide what some airmen have called "innocent mistakes" made as they plow through the form. The legal case here involves a specific question on the form that the pilot found confusing. Beyond this question, the more important lesson is to heighten our awareness of the care with which we should complete the application because of the possible consequences of a wrong answer.
Here is the question in this particular case: Question 18, "medical history," includes a full list of medical conditions, with associated "yes" and "no" boxes. They start with A, "frequent or severe headaches," proceed through to U, "admission to hospital," then skip V and W and proceed to X "other illness, disability, or surgery." Question V asks for "history of (1) any conviction(s) involving driving while intoxicated by, while impaired by, or while under the influence of alcohol or a drug; or (2) history of any conviction(s) or administrative action(s) involving an offense(s) which resulted in the denial, suspension, cancellation, or revocation of driving privileges or which resulted in attendance at an educational or a rehabilitation program." Question W asks for "history of nontraffic conviction(s) (misdemeanors or felonies)." The instruction page that is part of the medical application provides explanation and guidance to answering these questions.
Now to our case. Despite an extensive history of suspensions of his Florida driver's license and driving privileges, the pilot did not view these suspensions as reportable events, saying that he thought the term "administrative actions" referred only to drug- or alcohol-related offenses. He said his belief was based on his understanding of the question (the thrust being alcohol and drugs), the instruction sheet, the FARs, and answers provided by aviation medical examiners (AMEs) in the past when he asked whether the question was intended to cover traffic convictions other than those that were drug or alcohol related. The AMEs answered it was not.
In a three-year period, the pilot made three medical applications checking the "no" box next to question 18V. When the FAA discovered the apparent falsification, it revoked the pilot's airline transport pilot certificate and medical certificates on an emergency basis (immediately grounding him).
The pilot appealed the revocations to the NTSB, raising a number of defenses. After a hearing before an NTSB law judge, the judge rejected all of them. With respect to the defense we are highlighting here, the judge held that the pilot clearly had a history of "administrative actions" involving an offense, which resulted in suspension of his driving privileges. The judge refused to accept the pilot's explanation that he believed the question sought information only about drug- or alcohol-related convictions. A check in the "no" box was intentional falsification.
The NTSB affirmed the judge's decision. The full board addressed a related issue that has been raised from time to time: The pilot argued that the underlying traffic offenses were "minor" and had no relevance to his medical qualification. The often-posed question is what do these violations have to do with a pilot's medical qualification? Refusing to consider all of the traffic offenses cited as minor, the board said, "nor are we convinced that [the pilot's] multiple failures to pay traffic fines or make required court appearances are insignificant 'offenses' that have no potential relevance to the FAA's determination of his qualifications for certification." So the NTSB supported the FAA position that a history of offenses that lead to a loss of driving privileges, or required attendance at educational or rehabilitation programs, is material to qualification for a medical certificate.
Many pilots are not aware that every FAA medical application goes through a computer-matching procedure to uncover traffic and other offenses. The FAA routinely sends to the United States Department of Transportation's National Driver Registry (NDR) lists of individuals who have applied for FAA medical certificates. The NDR matches the names against its own records, which contain information on individuals whose drivers' licenses have been denied, revoked, suspended, or cancelled for cause, or who have been convicted of serious driving offenses. The FAA receives a computer tape from the NDR with a list of names that match a record, then checks the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System database for details of each pilot's motor vehicle incident. Many pilots miss that they authorize this process by signing the consent on the application. Notice it next time. If you don't sign, you don't get a medical certificate.