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FAA updates mental health certification guidance

The FAA has changed its criteria for evaluating pilots’ mental health status. Under the recent revisions, aviation medical examiners have greater autonomy in determining a pilot’s mental fitness.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

Newly updated guidance to AMEs now allows the examiner more latitude to determine the flight fitness of pilots who report “uncomplicated anxiety, depression, and related conditions.” The agency said doctors may issue medical certificates to pilots with histories of up to two mental health diagnoses without FAA review under certain circumstances. Pilots can receive medical certificates from their AME if they have not taken mental health medications for the past two years, provide satisfactory responses to a questionnaire, and raise no additional concerns with the AME.

The questionnaire, also called a decision tool, prompts the examiner to ask about a range of sensitive mental health topics that could affect the pilot's eligibility to receive medical certification. These include inquiries about additional diagnoses for conditions such as bipolar disorder, psychosis, personality disorder, eating disorder, “or any diagnosis not listed as acceptable.”

Other questions include whether the patient has a history of suicidal or homicidal thoughts, attempts, or other self-harm behavior; mental health hospitalization; or “symptoms severe enough to interfere with safety related duties.” Columns with the answers ”yes” and “no” accompany the questions.

The form also asks if “the licensed mental health specialist, treating clinician, or the AME” has any concerns regarding the patient after addressing the other questions. At the exam’s conclusion, the AME may issue the certificate if there are no “yes” answers to any of the screening questions and no additional concerns. Any “yes” answer or outstanding concern results in the certificate’s deferral.

Jonathan Welsh
Jonathan Welsh
Digital Media Content Producer
Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot, career journalist and lifelong aviation enthusiast who previously worked as a writer and editor with Flying Magazine and the Wall Street Journal.
Topics: Pilot Health and Medical Certification

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