If you have called our Pilot Information Center and spoken with one of our specialists about a medical certificate issue, you may have heard something about the importance of providing “good documentation” to the FAA to support your application for a medical. The FAA, as the regulator for aviation safety, has a different “non-clinical” view of medicine that becomes apparent if you walk out of the aviation medical examiner’s office without a new certificate in hand. Having a medical application deferred is a bummer, and the delay that can and does happen after the deferral is a huge frustration, expense, and inconvenience. That’s one key reason AOPA vigorously pursued medical certification reform for pilots who fly recreationally. We will see that become reality sometime, hopefully soon.
The FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine and its certification affiliates in Oklahoma City and the nine reginal medical offices is charged with keeping our national airspace “medically safe.” A noble and worthwhile quest to be sure, but a very bureaucratic one, too! For that reason, there are a few rules of thumb that we routinely espouse when you call us after having been touched by the FAA.
The first and most important caveat is don’t ignore letters from the FAA. The best reason for that is that eventually that letter may contain your medical certificate! In the interim, though, the FAA is probably asking you for some additional medical information needed to determine if you are qualified for the medical for which you applied. “Adequate documentation” is, admittedly, a relative term, but in most cases, the FAA letter will state exactly what they need from you to determine your eligibility for a medical certificate. The tip here is provide the FAA only what they are asking for---nothing more and nothing less. If you provide less than what they asked for, they will just keep coming back asking for it over and over, and the clock is ticking the whole time as operating expenses, hangar rent, loan payments, and business obligations continue while you are not flying the airplane. Equally bad is giving them more than they ask for, especially if you aren’t paying attention to what you are sending them. When you receive a request for a status report from your treating physician and you ask the doctor’s office to print out your entire office visit history that includes everything you have ever been seen for, that is Pandora’s Box on steroids.
The FAA asks for specific information that is important from a regulatory certification standpoint even though your treating physician may say, “they don’t need that! You just had a little stent put in your coronary artery, for crying out loud!” There are aeromedically significant reasons the FAA asks for something, so don’t try to second guess the reasons other than it is necessary to pave the way forward for that medical to show up in your mailbox.
One final tip—take responsibility for sending any requested information yourself to the FAA. Don’t trust anyone else--your family doctor’s office, the health care facility where you were treated, or even your AME, to send records for you to the FAA. Maintain that chain of custody yourself so you know what is being sent, when it went in the mail, and where did it get mailed to.