I thought it would be a good idea to start the New Year with a resolution to “do the smart thing” to avoid the hassle and frustration that can often come from an altercation with the FAA. Let’s review of the some key points that AOPA's Pilot Protection Services team frequently mentions when discussing the FAA and your medical certificate. Those of you who have called or emailed us with certification questions will be familiar with some of the tips. Those of you who may not yet have had to interact with the FAA, but who may have a condition that will affect your next medical renewal, should pay particular attention.
Starting with the basics, the first thing to do is to become educated about the medical condition you are experiencing from the “clinical” side—ask your treating physician questions so you fully understand your condition, how it affects you, how it will be treated, and what kinds of changes will you have to make in your life while being treated.
Once you have some knowledge about the condition, learn how the condition will affect your flying privileges. Is the condition one of the mandatory disqualifying ones identified in the Part 67 of the federal aviation regulations? Even if it isn’t, it still may be “considered” disqualifying under the general medical condition provisions of the regulation. Does the condition require some period of observation or recovery before the FAA would consider you for a medical certificate? Coronary stents or bypass, strokes, head injuries, and substance abuse/dependence represent a few situations in which some period of recovery/abstinence/observation is needed before the FAA can stratify your risk for incapacitation. Also, be aware of any medications that you may be taking short or long term. Some medications are just disqualifying, period, because of either the medical condition being treated or the potential adverse side effects of the drug. Check out the AOPA Medication Database or call the Pilot Information Center to learn more about the medications.
Once the condition is stable, you need to know exactly what the FAA is going to need from you in order to get a medical certificate or a special issuance authorization. The medical certification area of AOPA Online is loaded with excellent resource material for many of the most common medical conditions. The turn-around time for recertification can be faster if you provide all the required information to the FAA at one time. Keep in mind that every time you communicate by mail with the FAA, there will be a lag time of at least several weeks before you get any kind of response, so the more times you have to go ‘round and ‘round the carousel, the longer it will take to get your certificate. So, pay close attention to what the FAA needs and send them everything at the same time.
Two more things to keep in mind: Keep copies of all records you send to the FAA. Sometimes things get misplaced, so if what you send gets “lost” in the system, you will have a backup plan.
Finally, do not rely on any third parties to send records to the FAA for you. You need to maintain that chain of custody so you know what was sent, when it was sent, where it went, and that you had enough identifying information on each page for the records to get married up to your FAA medical file. And, send the FAA just what they ask you for—nothing more, nothing less.
If you anticipate an issue with your next medical renewal, give us a call to discuss things so you get off on the right foot to get your medical sooner rather than later.
Happy New Year!