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Dumb things pilots doDumb things pilots do

Top 10 reasons pilots lose flying privileges
Top 10 reasons pilots lose flying privileges

Jonathan Sackier Why do so many pilots do such dumb things? Since the AOPA Pilot Protection Services (PPS) launched its web mailbag, Dr. Warren Silberman, AOPA medical specialist Gary Crump, and I have seen some real doozies, and I think a broader reminder to our community is merited. Many involve interactions with aviation medical examiners (AMEs) and, remember, doing daft things can cause loss of flying privileges—nearly as bad as losing breathing privileges. So, in David Letterman style, let’s view the top 10 dumb pilot tricks:

10. “Aviate, navigate, communicate.” Why are so many pilots incapable of precise, polite, and timely communication? If you need to communicate with the FAA, do so respectfully and professionally, keep copies of all correspondence, and—most important—have PPS review documents first.

9. Seeing healthcare practitioners between AME visits? Ascertain if you should advise your AME, or if it can wait until your next flight physical. PPS can direct you and, if the latter, retain dates and details in preparation for your medical.

8. OK, so you reported a health care interaction to your AME. But did you bring relevant documents? “I had my lesser sprogulator endoscoped and I was told I am good to go!” Your cynical AME responds “Great! Can I please see the report?” Report? Uh, oh.

7. Do you know how often your fellow aviators either defer diagnosis, fearing what they might learn, or therapies which might impact their ticket? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, folks, but if you are dead, you will not be able to fly conventional aircraft; angel wings, maybe. I have seen pilots with possible incipient stroke and other serious conditions play dumb. This is a very dangerous game.

6. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and the truth will set you free. Good principles to live by, but some pilots hide diagnoses from their AMEs and maybe even their passengers. This reminds me of the recent Germanwings tragedy—a severely depressed commercial pilot committed suicide and regulators denied knowledge of his condition. Keep your eyes open for fellow aviators who may have a problem; offer a guiding light to resources such as their AME or AOPA.

5. The FAA hearing standards are not that demanding, but being alert to radio communications is critical. If you are “of a certain age,” consider a hearing checkup prior to your AME visit so any problem can be dealt with. Listen up—you can fly with hearing aids, but if you fail your medical for hearing deficit, much time will be wasted.

4. My July 2015 column, “Fly Well: Eyes on the Prize,” addressed visual problems and several ophthalmologist-pilots contacted me, pointing out that regular checkups will not only avoid medical issuance problems, but can lead to better prognoses for various eye diseases. See your way clear to follow their advice!

3. The reason most people have diabetes, hypertension—and a host of other ills that ail us—is largely a function of poor diet, lack of exercise, and other bad habits. It is never too late to make a change. You would not take the left seat and leave flight characteristics to chance, so grab that metaphorical yoke and take control.

2. Each time I write about screening, one or more medical colleagues waxes lyrical on the value of any given test and, yes, staying healthy is the best medicine. But screening may not only change the course of disease, it can impact flying privileges. The time to discover you have hypertension is not during your AME visit, so have blood pressure checks regularly. Another example is having colonoscopy and removal of precancerous polyps—potenially good for your survival and cockpit time.

1. And, ladies and gentlemen, drum roll please. The gold medal goes to this act of genius, the source of multiple letters, complaints, and loss of privileges—taking medicines that are not approved by the FAA. Sometimes these are not prescription, but over-the-counter drugs. This is totally ridiculous because there are assets available to you either on AOPA’s website or from the FAA. And if you are not Web-savvy, you can ask your AME or AOPA before taking any new medication. Having a smart and affable AME always helps, but so does using your head.

Hear the one about the young, stupid pilot wanting to sound cool? Approaching a field at night, instead of making the appropriate radio transmissions, he said: “Guess who?” The controller switched off the airfield lights and replied, “Guess where!” Don’t be foolish—it’s your medical, it’s your life!

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Dr. Jonathan Sackier answers AOPA members’ medical questions through the AOPA Pilot Protection Services (PPS) program.

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