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Waiting game

How long before I can fly after taking medication?

One of the common questions we hear in the AOPA Pilot Information Center deals with the use of medications and flying.

Recently, the question about appropriate wait times after using medications before flying came up again. Associated with the question was a discussion about the potential adverse effects of altitude and medications. The federal regulations include language dealing with use of medications. FAR 61.53: Prohibition on Operations During Medical Deficiency is the prevailing rule that requires pilots to not act as pilot in command or in any capacity as a required flight crewmember if the pilot “knows or has reason to know of any medical condition that would make the person unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate necessary for the pilot operation.”

There is a second part to that regulation too, involving use of medications or other treatment for a condition that makes the person unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate (or other qualification such as BasicMed) necessary for the pilot operation. Then, in Part 91.17: Alcohol or drugs, the regulation states that you cannot operate an aircraft “while using any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety.” The question then becomes, “What are those medications and how does the FAA determine which ones are OK?”

The FAA is a conservative regulatory bureaucracy, and much of how it enforces the Part 67 medical standards is based on policy established within the Office of Aerospace Medicine. Historically, the FAA’s concerns about whether or not a medication is acceptable depends not only on the drugs themselves, but also the medical condition for which the medications are prescribed.

Looking at the AOPA medications database, you will see that some medications have a “wait time after use” and the FAA’s rule of thumb is to wait five times the dosing interval after the last dose before flying. If the dosage interval is every eight hours, 5 times 8 is 40 hours after the last dose before flying. Gary Crump is the director of medical certification for the AOPA Pilot Information Center.

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Portrait of Gary Crump, AOPA's director of medical certification with a Cessna 182 Skylane at the National Aviation Community Center.
AOPA NACC (FDK)
Frederick, MD USA

Gary Crump

Gary is the Director of AOPA’s Pilot Information Center Medical Certification Section and has spent the last 32 years assisting AOPA members. He is also a former Operating Room Technician, Professional Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician, and has been a pilot since 1973.

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