Heads-up for student pilots

May 21, 2014

Warren Silberman

Warren Silberman

  • Former Manager, FAA Aerospace Medical Certification 
  • Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine 
  • Expert in Aerospace/Preventive Medicine 
  • Pilot since 1986

One thing that I saw countless times when I was at the FAA Aerospace Medical Certification Division, and still see to this very day, is student airmen who wait to obtain an FAA flight physical and have a known medical issue that delays their medical certification and many times prevents them from obtaining certification at all.

Probably one of the most common of these conditions is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Most simply this is a psychiatric disorder in which there are problems with attention, hyperactivity, or acting impulsively that are not appropriate for a person's age. What we see in many situations is that the young student may demonstrate some of these symptoms in school. The teacher tells the parents and encourages them to seek treatment. They take the student to a physician or perhaps even a psychiatrist and without performing any testing, the health care provider recommends and places the student on medications. Unfortunately, both the condition and the medications to treat ADHD are disqualifying for all classes of medical certification.

The student notes the medication in block 17a of the application, and the aviation medical examiner then defers the exam to the FAA for a decision. Even if the student discontinues the medication, the “history” of symptoms requiring the use of medication is now known to the FAA, and a comprehensive evaluation will need to be done. The battery of testing required for the review is time consuming and quite expensive.

The testing, called a neuropsychological evaluation, is a series of objective tests generally performed by a clinical psychologist trained in this specialty area. The testing can take six hours or longer, and usually costs between $2,500 and $3,000 dollars! If the test results demonstrate evidence of deficits suggestive of disorder, medical certification cannot be granted for any class. So, to be considered for certification, the student must be off the medication(s) and will need to obtain these neuropsychological tests.

This is just one common example. I am sure you have heard me say in my previous writings that when you are diagnosed with a medical problem you should learn all the aeromedical implications before notifying the FAA. Contact the medical certification staff at AOPA and learn what you will need to satisfy the FAA before seeing the aviation medical examiner. You may be saving yourself a whole lot of time and expense.