While the U.S. government is on a Congress-created enforced shutdown, the aviation industry might be tempted to wonder what the FAA actually accomplishes. What we are learning is that a lot of what the FAA does is process paperwork. And when the paperwork stops flowing, we can be forced to stop flying.
Aviation Medical Examiner
Student pilot Michael Graham pleaded guilty in a North Carolina U.S. District Court on May 6 to falsifying statements in connection with his submission of an FAA medical form to obtain his student pilot certificate. According to an FAA statement, Graham did not disclose his criminal or medical history or current medications on his application for an airman medical certificate, which an aviation medical examiner subsequently approved. The FAA was notified after his flight instructor became concerned about Graham’s behavior.
The requirement for pilots to be certified fit to fly by a medical doctor is a universal feature of aviation regulatory bodies. The International Civil Aviation Organization sets the standard, which individual states can modify. According to ICAO, “To become a professional pilot or an air traffic controller, an applicant must be in normal good health (including normal hearing, normal vision and normal color perception).”
The FAA on April 2 announ-ced a new policy that will allow pilots taking medication for mild to moderate depression to obtain a special issuance medical certificate. Special issuances are needed for medical conditions that are not allowable for normal first-, second- and third-class medical certification of pilots.
If you get the feeling you’re just a number when it comes to getting your medical, you may be interested to know that the FAA issues 453,000 airman medicals every year. According to an FAA spokesman, the agency also processes 5,700 special issuances, responds to 87,600 written inquiries, answers 95,000 telephone inquiries and conducts 155,000 full reviews of medical records. But don’t be too quick to assume they’re an uncaring lot.
A growing number of aviation medical professionals are questioning pilots’ reliance on their required annual (or, in the case of first-class medicals, six-monthly) medical examinations as their primary source of personal health monitoring.
Suppose your aviation medical examiner (AME) gives you the little piece of paper that proclaims to the FAA that you are fit to fly, but the paperwork never reaches the agency’s Aeromedical Certification Branch in Oklahoma City. Are you legal? Are you liable? While certainly not routine, the situation has cropped up more often than one might think.
Twenty medical conditions that are serious enough to require special issuance (SI) first- and second-class medicals can now be cleared by an aviation medical examiner (AME) after an initial review by the FAA. This means that once the FAA issues an SI medical certificate, pilots can then go to their AMEs for a renewal, provide all of the necessary medical reports and, if the condition has not changed, leave with another valid SI medical.
The Transportation Department’s inspector general told the House aviation subcommittee in July that possible extensions to the durations of medical certificates and the planned raising of the airline pilot retirement age underscore the importance of the medical certification process.
While generally praising the FAA’s system of designated examiners and representatives, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report said that the agency has not ensured that its oversight process for designees is consistent among its field offices.
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