More of Back to Basics

Last month, we covered some of the great dialogue that came from the FAA Aviation Medicine Summit back on November 3. This month I want to continue that topic and point out some new information that is and will be timely for the foreseeable future.

We were talking about medical records and providing the FAA with what they need to make an informed decision about your medical certificate eligibility. In a subsequent conversation just a few days ago with one of my physician buds in the FAA, he pointed out something that I was not aware of. For background, keep in mind that the Aerospace Medical Certification Division is the primary repository for all FAA airman medical records. In fact, that facility houses over 22 million FAA medical applications going back decades and maintains medical records for 3.7 million unique airmen. That is a long history of pilots and medical applications dating back who knows how long.

Being the resting place for so much data, with more and more coming in every day in the form of new airman medical applications and supplemental information requested by the FAA for review, the AMCD is a very busy place. If you’ve tried to call them since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 for updates on your medical application review, you probably experienced some frustration getting through to them.

The FAA is made up of nine regions that serve the lower 48 states, Alaska and Hawaii, and international, and each region has a Regional Flight Surgeon and medical office with staff to assist pilots with many aspects of the medical certification process. The Regional Flight Surgeons and their staff do medical certification just like the AMCD folks and serve as “safety valves” to offset some of the huge workload pouring into AMCD. In fact, the regional offices do a significant amount of certification of airmen, but their services are still not well known in the pilot community.

Involving the regional medical offices can lessen the frustration that everyone is feeling now as the COVID plague continues into the new year. All the FAA medical offices are still in the remote mode as are most of us, so getting through to any of the offices may still require some patience, but you will find the staff to be courteous and as helpful as possible. We refer members out to their respective regions on a regular basis, and very often the situation gets resolved in a reasonable time. You can locate your regional medical offices here.

As I mentioned last month, the FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine philosophy is to try to find a way to get to a “YES” with as many medical certification issues as possible. The FAA is the world recognized leader in regulatory civil aviation medical certification and is the model that many ICAO countries use when adopting standards and practices for certification. When the dust settles, the FAA medically qualifies about 98% of the applicants who submit medical records for consideration. Yeah, there are some situations where it just isn’t possible, but in a time when most of us would prefer to see less government involvement in our lives, it is good to know that we have a system that puts safety first, but also works hard to keep the needs of the pilot in mind also. That isn’t always the case in many bureaucracies.

However, to get to the “yes” sometimes requires time and testing. The FAA is trying to address that concern too and is working to narrow down the scope of medical records needed for review. Again, it depends on the individual situation as the FAA doesn’t use a cookie cutter approach to certification. Every applicant’s medical history is evaluated on the merits of the available medical history and information provided in support of the application. With really complex cases involving several difficult medical conditions, more specialty testing, evaluations, and consultations may be needed, especially if the case is being seen by one of the Federal Air Surgeons’ individual or panel specialty consultants who meet periodically to review the more complicated cases. These cases do take longer, but the FAA is focusing on minimizing the time it takes to reach a decision.

And finally, I repeat again the need to be concise in what records you provide. When the FAA requests medical records, they are usually very specific about what they are asking for, so send them what they ask for, nothing more or less. Unnecessary records that get in with what the FAA asked for only slow down the process, delaying a decision.

As always, if you have questions about anything related to your medical, give us a call and we can help you sort out your situation.

Let’s hope for a better 2021!

Fly safe and fly often!

Portrait of Gary Crump, AOPA's director of medical certification with a Cessna 182 Skylane at the National Aviation Community Center.
Frederick, MD USA
Gary Crump
Gary is the Director of AOPA’s Pilot Information Center Medical Certification Section and has spent the last 32 years assisting AOPA members. He is also a former Operating Room Technician, Professional Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician, and has been a pilot since 1973.

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