As we march toward May and the reality that commercially rated LTA pilots will be required to possess a second-class medical certificate if they intend to use their certificate for commercial purposes, the time is short already and it is incumbent upon all concerned to get started toward submitting your application before the rush. This is especially true if you are aware of any condition that might inhibit you from obtaining a medical, or that may delay the issuance of the medical because of a requirement for review by the FAA’s medical board.
During the last several weeks, I have fielded calls, emails and texts from many balloonists asking questions about the process. Many of those questions are about a known medical condition and if/how it might affect the issuance of a medical to them.
For those who attended the BFA convention last year, you heard Dr. Alan Kozarski, FAA’s chief ophthalmologist and a senior aviation medical examiner, say that there are not that many conditions that will prevent you from obtaining the medical. There are, however, 14 specific conditions that are “do not issue” as related to an aviation medical. They are angina pectoris, bipolar disorder, cardiac valve replacement, heart transplant, psychosis, myocardial infarction, permanent pacemaker, psychosis, substance abuse and dependence, diabetes mellitus requiring insulin or other hypoglycemic medication, coronary heart disease that has required treatment or, if untreated, that has been symptomatic or clinically significant, disturbance of consciousness without satisfactory medical explanation of the cause, personality disorder that is sever enough to have repeatedly manifested itself by overt acts, and transient loss of control of nervous system function(s) without satisfactory medical explanation of the cause. We’ll call these the Big 14. Until several years ago, one item on the list was sleep apnea, but now sleep apnea is acceptable, but only after being properly treated and tracked by your doctor. This tracking is reviewed by the FAA annually before issuance. So while there are 14 current items on the list, time will tell whether others may be removed under certain controlled circumstances. Many of the items brought to my attention, such as issues with eyesight, lighter cases of diabetes, sleep apnea, heart surgery (such as stents), may be acceptable, but may require some time in review prior to allowing the issuance of the medical certificate.
One of the clues to the submission of the application for your medical certificate is to read the questions on the application. Again, read the questions, and then answer truthfully! I can’t stress enough that your answers need to be truthful and accurate. Omissions and inaccuracies are a BIG DEAL! The FAA has very skilled legal instrument examiners that compare various databases available to them, such as electronic medical records, pharmacy and insurance records, and driving records, all available through their sources.
What does this mean to you? Here it is. If you have a known or previously diagnosed condition that you think may restrict or delay the issuance of your medical, start right now doing the research. That means the gathering of all paperwork necessary to submit along with the MedExpress online application. This additional paperwork will be presented to your AME (aviation medical examiner) at your appointment. I implore you to find an AME that has a known reputation for working within the aviation community and knows what to recommend you do prior to your visit. That person should guide you through the process. If the AME that you find will not discuss this with you, then find another AME. One will not be any more lenient than another, but if they are part of the aviation community, then then they should be willing to help. All AMEs are not created equal. If you are a member of AOPA, they have a medical advisor that will even send you the forms you need for specific conditions that will require further study by the AME before issuance. Join AOPA. They are an invaluable source of information and truly work for their members to solve problems.
Pay particular attention to any drugs that you may be taking. Don’t forget them on the form, because the FAA has access to the prescription database and can verify. Check the allowable medication chart to make sure whether they are allowed. That chart can be obtained from AOPA or from your friendly AME. If you are taking a non-allowed drug, speak to your doctor about a possible change in your medication.
There is an old joke about medicals among pilot and it says, “if you wish to obtain an aviation medical, go to your doctor first to find out what’s wrong with you and then go to the AME”. There is a lot of truth in that, especially when a commercial LTA pilot, who has never applied for a medical in his or her life, now needs to familiarize themselves with the process and the rules. They may be in their 50s, 60s, or 70s and have never had, nor were required to obtain an FAA medical over their many years of balloon flying. Those pilots have not been through the annual cycle of record keeping, medical and prescription choices, and self physical evaluation.
Remember that the application asks the question, “HAVE YOU EVER IN YOUR LIFE BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH, HAD, OR DO YOUR PRESENTLY HAVE ANY OF THE FOLLOWING…” and the list of items is long. You need to know your medical condition and history “BEFORE” you make the appointment with an AME. Do your research and you will be fine.
Lastly, BFA sent a blast email a couple of weeks ago with some good news, so I’ll restate it here. After discussions with our FAA contact, Mr. Brad Zeigler, during which we posed the question regarding a pilot who does not qualify for the second class medical, he stated, that should you find that you do not qualify for a second class medical, you do not lose your flying privileges. Your pilot certificate, at either the private or commercial level, is safe and you will still be able to exercise the privileges of your private certificate, and be able to conduct flight training using your commercial certificate. There are caveats to that and how FAR 61.53 may fall into the equation. FAR 61.53; Prohibition on operations during medical deficiency states; “(b) Operations that do not require a medical certificate. For operations provided for in § 61.23(b) of this part, a person shall not act as pilot in command, or in any other capacity as a required pilot flight crewmember, while that person knows or has reason to know of any medical condition that would make the person unable to operate the aircraft in a safe manner.” The BFA is in the final process of creating a training program that will cover all aspects of the medical application and AME visit and we will publish this in as timely a fashion as we are able.
As Dr. Kozarski said: “The Devil is In the Details” in obtaining your second class medical. The real likelihood that there will be some pilots who will be forced to step back from commercial piloting to pleasure flying, is there. However, if you start now, do your research, ask questions of a knowledgeable AME or the AOPA, you will be far more knowledgeable of the process and more likely get through it successfully. It may take time, but it is worth the effort. The time to get started (if you haven’t already) is NOW!
Happy winter flying.
Pat Cannon, BFA President