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Prepare to wait

Reasons for delays in medical certification

If you hold a medical under special issuance, you are probably aware of significant delays in the issuance or reissuance of medical certificates.
Understanding what is behind the delays won’t make you feel any better, but at least the reasons for the delays will make sense.

The FAA Aerospace Medical Certification Division in Oklahoma City has historically received and processed about 385,000 medical applications annually. In 2022, that number was 415,000. The year 2023 has seen more than 430,000 applications. If that increase in workload was matched with an increase in the available staff to handle the work, the impact would be less dramatic, but that isn’t the case.

Medical certification is an integral function of the FAA’s mandate for safety, so there can’t be any shortcuts. If the workload for the available staff exceeds what can reasonably be processed, the result is longer than normal wait times. That’s where we are now: Line up and wait. A key factor often is overlooked in the equation. The FAA tries to find a way to get a favorable decision on as many applications as possible. To get to “yes” often requires multiple requests for additional information records over the course of the case review. Each time the FAA must reach out to a pilot for more information, delays increase.

Fortunately, a high percentage of people who apply for a medical are issued. It just takes time. Start the application process even sooner than you think is necessary and prepare for a wait if your medical isn’t issued at the time of the flight physical.

AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services knows that your pilot and medical certificates mean everything to you. Our trusted attorneys and medical certification specialists are here to help protect your certificates when things don’t go as planned. With an average of nearly 4,500 aviation-related legal matters and more than 1,000 medical certification-related cases per year, we’re proud to help 72,000 participating AOPA members stay in the air.

Portrait of Gary Crump, AOPA's director of medical certification with a Cessna 182 Skylane at the National Aviation Community Center.
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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