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AOPA reconvenes medical-expert panel to press FAA reforms

A panel of medical experts that has helped AOPA accomplish major advocacy goals in the past will weigh in once more in 2020 as we urge the FAA to act on key proposals to modernize and streamline the medical certification process for pilots.

The AOPA Board of Aviation Medical Advisors is a six-member body that is developing solutions to help the FAA reduce delays, eliminate outdated review processes, bring technology online, and eliminate redundant steps often required in medical evaluations.

“We have assembled a distinguished board of aviation medicine professionals and aviators who fully understand that the FAA’s medical certification processes need serious attention,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “They will advise us in the development of long-overdue commonsense solutions to benefit the pilot community and the FAA.”

Distinguished members of the aviation medical community have served on the board during past advocacy pushes such as the successful effort in 2017 that accomplished third class medical reform and produced the BasicMed program, under which nearly 60,000 pilots are now flying.

In 2020 the board is chaired by Dr. Ian Fries, an orthopedic surgeon and FAA aviation medical examiner. Also serving are emergency medicine and family medicine practitioner Dr. Brent Blue; aviation and forensic psychologist Chuck Denison, Ph.D.; internist Dr. Sean Malone; infectious disease expert Dr. Richard S. Roth; and cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Kenneth Stahl.

“I am pleased that AOPA has reconstituted this medical advisory board, and I am honored to serve as chair. The board looks forward to working with AOPA’s team to recommend long-overdue improvements to the FAA’s special issuance process and improve aviation safety,” Fries said.

AOPA has signaled the FAA that we are eager to engage with the agency on initiatives to ease the regulatory burden and reduce the time it takes pilots to navigate the FAA’s medical certification process.

“We believe implementing high-priority technological improvements to support the medical certification processes is long overdue. Pilots and AMEs should be able to communicate with FAA medical staff using electronic means and pilots should not have to wait long periods, months if not years, to receive an update on their special issuance application. We stand ready to assist in whatever is needed to help get this underway,” wrote AOPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Jim Coon in a letter to Ali Bahrami, FAA associate administrator for aviation safety, on August 27.

The letter discussed a wide range of medical certification topics for which AOPA believes reforms could be enacted, including:

  • Revising how the FAA determines the valid period of special issuance medicals.
  • Expanding the FAA’s capability to transfer documents electronically.
  • Eliminating unnecessarily “threatening language” from some letters the agency sends pilots who may not meet medical standards; the wording in question seems to imply that the pilot has violated an unspecified regulation.
  • Expressing concerns of many pilots and AMEs who contacted AOPA about the Federal Air Surgeon’s recent policy change to require lifetime monitoring of airmen who have an Authorization for Special Issuance of a medical for substance dependence even when there is established clinical evidence of recovery or sustained total abstinence.
  • Holding the FAA to an agreement made last year to draft a policy to ensure all pilots, regardless of medical certification class, are not denied hypoxia education training by the FAA—training that AOPA contends has been denied to some pilots.
  • Reiterating AOPA’s objections to a plan to analyze urine samples from pilots taking FAA medical exams to compare trace amounts of drugs and medications in pilots who did not have accidents to those who died in accidents. As an alternative, AOPA “would like to work with the FAA and NTSB on an industry educational campaign.”

Other remedies and reforms to help pilots will be forthcoming based on recommendations from the board, Coon wrote.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, BasicMed, Pilot Health and Medical Certification

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