Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

By Dr. James D. Lakin
Minnesota Flyer 

Aeromedical Forum: December 2015

Legal aspects of medical certification


Every time I get a new edition of Federal Aviation Regulations/ Aeronautical Information Manual (FAR/AIM) I’m amazed that it’s grown as fast as my three-year-old grandson!

Pilots operate under an increasingly complex matrix of regulations and aviation medicine is no exception. So I thought it was high time to take a look at some of the legal issues and procedures affecting medical certification. This month we’ll touch on the application and certification process. We’ll also cover the options available to an applicant who is denied medical certification. Next month we’ll look at issues of falsification and liability.

The whole process of medical certification starts with your filling out FAA Form 8500-8- Application for Airman Medical Certificate or Airman Medical & Student Pilot Certificate. As you probably know, it must be filled out on-line these days: https://medxpress.faa.gov/medxpress/.

You hit “Send” and this puts your application on the FAA main-frames where your Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) can retrieve it. Obviously it’s important to be as accurate and complete as you can in filling out 8500-8. This, along with your examination will be the bases upon which the AME will decide whether or not you meet qualifications for issuance of your medical certificate.

Happily, 98 to 99 percent of all applications are granted on the spot by your AME. Contrary to popular myth, the FAA is not out to ground anyone who wasn’t a Navy fighter pilot. However they are concerned that your medical condition allows you to safely perform the duties of PIC.

Let’s say that you’ve got some health issues that concern either the AME or the FAA. What then? One of two things can happen. Your application can be denied or deferred. Denial on the spot by an AME is pretty unusual. If you tell the doc that want to fly so you can bomb the White House because the CIA’s infiltrated your brain, an outright denial may be in the tea leaves.

Short of something like that, the AME will usually defer your case to the FAA for further consideration. They’ll determine whether to issue, deny, grant authorization for a Special Issuance Medical Certificate, or request additional information.

Most of the time, you’ll get a letter from the FAA looking for more stuff. Let’s say you had a heart attack last year but have made what your cardiologist feels is a complete recovery. The FAA will want all the medical records, a statement from your doc and a stress ECG just to make sure the ticker is up to par.

You submit all that and you’ll probably get a Special Issuance. Basically it’s a letter saying that you can get a medical certificate good for a limited time, usually one year. After that you’ll need to be reevaluated by your treating physician. If things look OK, most often the FAA will allow your own AME to re-issue your yearly medical certificate.

Alternately, the FAA can deny your application. This can happen for two general reasons: a disqualifying medical condition or failure to provide additional medical information in response to an FAA request. Unfortunately, nine times out of ten the cause for denial is failure to give them what they want. When you provide all the information the FAA requests, the percentage of exams that ultimately end up being denied is less than 0.1%. Bottom line, be patient and play ball with the Men in Black.

If you do end up being denied by the FAA you have the option of appealing the decision to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). You will be given a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge who will review the evidence, hear what the FAA has to say and make a decision.

If that goes against you, you can appeal to the full NTSB Board. If they agree with the FAA that you have no business in the cockpit you can appeal to a United States District Court. If they rule against you, you can take it to the United States Court of Appeals. By that time however you probably could have bought a Cirrus jet for the amount of money you will have spent on legal fees.

That’s enough legalese for one month! Next time we’ll look at an airman’s reporting duties regarding his medical condition and some of the pitfalls in fibbing to the FAA.

Fly wisely. See you next month!

As always, comments, questions and suggestions are welcome: jdlakin@mnallergyclinic.com.


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