QUESTION: I’m applying for my first medical as a new student pilot. I’ve heard horror stories about the difficulties of completing the application. Is there any way to better understand this part of the process?
ANSWER: The FAA MedXpress online application can be confusing, especially for a first-time applicant. A detailed review about the complexities of the MedXpress application is beyond the scope of our discussion here, but we can cover the highlights of the exam. The key thing is to read the application questions carefully! It’s a legal form so you don’t want to inadvertently fail to disclose information pertinent to your qualifications for the certificate. The key sections of the application are the medication questions (Are you currently using any medications?). You are not asked to report medications that you are no longer taking.
The medical history section is also important, as the form is asking if you have EVER had, or currently have, any of numerous medical conditions, medical disability payments, hospitalizations, or alcohol-related motor vehicle actions. Each of the items in the section contains a small “+” icon that drops down examples of conditions for each item to assist you in determining what should be reported.
The third section is visits to health professionals in the last three years. Click on the button
“8500-8 Instructions” to see instructions on what health professionals can be excluded.
The application mechanics are actually user friendly, but reading and understanding the questions is important. If you have questions about the application, call AOPA’s medical certification specialists in the Pilot Information Center for assistance.
QUESTION: I am considering starting to take flying lessons and have been taking medications for ADHD. At what point do I obtain a medical examination and is my condition a problem?
ANSWER: While it is certainly nice to hear about someone considering joining our ranks, this diagnosis could be an issue. ADHD refers to “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” and implies one has issues with certain aspects of learning. First, let me state categorically that there are many brilliant and highly creative people who probably carry the diagnosis and it is more a function of our educational system and societal “norms” that have created such a fuss. Yes, there are people who cannot work in a rigid school system or complete certain tasks without special coping mechanisms or, of course, who take medications.
However, it is not uncommon for this diagnosis to be erroneously dished out and you should probably first of all see a clinician well versed in the topic, such as a clinical psychologist. If indeed you do have ADHD, flying would probably not be for you at this point in your life because it does demand rigid adherence to protocols and focus, without which the pilots put themselves and others at risk. Additionally, the medications usually used to treat the condition are not allowed by FAA, so to fly without disclosing this would be an offense.
I hope everything pans out for you.
QUESTION: I am considering learning to fly and wonder why there are tests for color blindness at the medical examination.
ANSWER: A quick trip to the airport will provide the answer – outside the cockpit there are many circumstances where color plays a role – taxiway lights are blue, runway lights white, taxiway lines yellow, runway lines also white. And so on. And within the cockpit there are also many gauges and dials where color plays a role – just like being in the red financially is not good, not seeing that a given indication is also in the red can have serious consequences. I suggest you go online and try one of the tests of color blindness or visit a local optician’s office. Rather find out now before embarking on a flying adventure that might not get off the ground...
QUESTION: As the long-time owner of an acquired Right Bundle Branch Block of unknown cause I wonder what the implications of this are. I am told there is no atrial fibrillation.
ANSWER: Electrical signals that initiate and coordinate heart contractions originate in an area called the sino-atrial node, a specialized group of cells in the right side of the heart. The electricity then travels through right and left branches to relevant areas of the heart – it is those signals that provide a “window into the heart” when doctors look at an electrocardiogram (ECG).
One of the most common rhythm problems in the heart is atrial fibrillation, or “Afib,” a topic we have covered quite recently (“Rhythm of My Heart,” AOPA Pilot magazine, August 2018, page 26). Sometimes there is a blockage of signal going down one of the branches and whereas a left bundle branch block tends to be clinically relevant, right- sided blocks are often not.
Causes for this kind of issue include heart attack or poor blood supply to the heart, congenital issues, problems with the thyroid, and certain drugs. In the absence of a causative issue, normal cardiac function, and no Afib, one can continue to fly, although some additional testing may be required before receiving to clearance to the active runway.