It's Basic, My Dear Watson!

In the publishing world, the term “evergreen” refers to a topic that is timely regardless of when it’s published or read. One of the current evergreen topics is BasicMed, which we have written often about since it became law five years ago. 

It is still one of the most common subjects of calls to our Pilot Information Center. Although five years old, the alternative to a conventional medical certificate is still new to any pilot who isn’t familiar with it. In fact, BasicMed will probably be in the “evergreen” family of aviation topics for some time yet. I paraphrase Sherlock Holmes’ “Elementary, my dear Watson” (he, incidentally, may never have actually said those exact words in any of the Arthur Conan Doyle mysteries) to emphasize that compared to obtaining an FAA medical certificate, the process of qualifying for BasicMed is, as the FAA named it, pretty basic!

The questions and comments we receive help us understand some of the aspects of BasicMed that may not be clear, and to hear why pilots are opting for BasicMed. In many cases, the deciding factor involves a special issuance authorization from the FAA. If you have one, you know that the ongoing process of renewing a medical under an authorization can be expensive, time consuming, and frustrating. A cardiac special issuance is a common occurrence, and this member’s response is typical:

I just got a special issuance after two stents, and the things the FAA is requiring me to do every year are just ridiculous and expensive and, in my cardiologist’s opinion, total overkill.”

Fortunately, about 95% of pilots who apply for a medical are issued the certificate by the AME at the time of exam. For pilots in that group who can relatively easily qualify for an FAA medical, the benefit to using BasicMed is the additional two years of duration without the need for a physical exam. BasicMed requires a physical exam at least every 48 months, to the day, but it can be renewed anytime before the expiration date of 48 months.

For pilots on special issuance, the benefits are even more substantial. The special issuance is required just one time, after which the pilot can qualify for BasicMed, potentially saving thousands of dollars in annual health care provider visits, medical tests, and time delays while waiting for the renewal of that annual authorization. And yes, if your flying habits require that you maintain the special issuance, but you want to use BasicMed during the wait for the special issuance renewal, you can do that. You may hold a medical certificate and a BasicMed qualification at the same time. Simply decide before flight if you’re using BasicMed or your medical for that flight. You just can’t change the plan mid-flight. If you depart using your medical, it’s for the entire duration of the flight!

If, while using BasicMed, you develop one or more of the eleven conditions that require the one-time special issuance, you cannot continue with BasicMed until the FAA has granted that special issuance, but again, you only need to do it once! In the meantime, just grab another qualified pilot to act as PIC while you’re waiting for the SI.

So, what if you get a BasicMed qualification and allow your medical certificate to lapse, but later decide you want to go back for another medical? No problem. You’re not restricted to one or the other. If you decide BasicMed doesn’t fit your needs, simply complete a new MedXPress application and see your AME for a flight physical. The on-ramps and off-ramps are still available to you if you want to change to or from BasicMed to a medical.

There are two dates that you need to know for meeting the BasicMed requirements. The first is the date of your physical exam with a state-licensed physician using the Comprehensive Medical Examination Checklist (CMEC). As mentioned earlier, the BasicMed physical exam is required every 48 months to the day. That means if you had the physical exam on December 9, 2019, that physical expires on December 9, 2023. However, the online Medical Self-Assessment course is valid for 24 calendar months; that is, it expires on the last day of the month 24 months after completion.

If the dates get past you and either the course and/or self-assessment duration expires, the process is just as if your medical expired. Just get current again before you fly. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only pilot who flew on an expired medical (unintentionally, of course!). Soon as you realize you’re not “current,” just do what it takes to get in compliance before you fly. If you’re not sure of your dates, you can visit the FAA Airman Certificate Information page where your medical and/or BasicMed data can be viewed. That page will show the date of your most recent medical certificate class and date of exam, and the BasicMed online course and CMEC dates of completion.

And what becomes of the forms – the CMEC checklist and the course completion certificate – once you’ve finished the process? They go into your logbook or are stored electronically so you can put eyes on them later.

You do not send anything regarding BasicMed to the FAA! The only data FAA receives is sent electronically via the submission of the certificate form you complete at the end of the medical self-assessment course. That includes the date of your course completion and the date of your BasicMed physical exam, the same information you see if you search the Airman Certificate Information page.

The regulation requires that you retain the course completion certificate and the signed CMEC and make it available to the FAA “upon request.” If you filed away the documents so well that you can’t locate them, you will need to complete the course and/or a new CMEC exam. You are not required to carry the paperwork when you fly so there is no legal reason to carry them in the airplane. But if you feel “naked and afraid” by the absence of an FAA medical certificate in your pocket, you can store the images on your smartphone.

One final point – there is no penalty for allowing the physical exam or course to expire, other than not being legal to operate with BasicMed until you renew. If your airplane is having an extended winter annual and your BasicMed expires, don’t sweat it as an urgency. Just get it done before the spring thaw so you and the airplane will be legal and airworthy.

I wish you all a happy, healthy, fun 2022!

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.
Topics: BasicMed, Pilot Health and Medical Certification

Related Articles