Pilots have a unique perspective. Flying lets us see the world in a different way, but our passion for aviation also gives many of us a different take on medical issues. For a non-pilot, a serious medical condition might first bring up fears of dying. For many pilots, though, diagnosis of the same medical condition might first arouse fears of not flying. There are aviators among us who may even perceive not flying as a fate worse than dying. That may be extreme, but most pilots can certainly empathize with the visceral “what-happens-to-my-medical” fear that has shadowed reporting any visit to a medical professional on the Application for Airman Medical Certificate (otherwise known as Form 8500-8).
Thanks to a lot of dedicated work by a lot of people, both inside and outside the federal government, pilots who fly for recreation or personal transportation have a new and, for many, less stressful aviation medical option in the form of the BasicMed rule. BasicMed is a very welcome development that, like so many things in life, carries responsibilities along with the privileges it offers.
Focusing on the Fix
We have written a lot about the FAA’s Compliance Philosophy (see January/February 2016 issue at www.faa.gov/news/safety_briefing/archive for detailed information). To recap, the Compliance Philosophy is the enabling guidance for the FAA’s risk-based oversight approach to compliance. It stresses a problem-solving approach where enhancement of the individual or organization’s safety performance is the goal. It promotes communication, collaboration, and proactive risk management to find safety problems before they cause an accident, and use of the most effective tools to ensure a positive, permanent fix.
This approach certainly applies to managing your health. It has always been the case that the FAA expects compliance on medical requirements, and it has always been the case that compliance includes honest communication about issues that affect your health, and thus your ability to safely operate an aircraft.
Many pilots, though, have perhaps been hesitant to fully communicate with their doctors for fear of complicating issuance of the all-important medical certificate. I get it, because I certainly experienced some trepidation when multiple sclerosis forced me to take the special issuance route several years ago. Like others, though, I found that I benefited from the hard work the FAA’s medical certification staff has done over the past few years, not only to speed consideration of special issuance, but also to expand both the range of certifiable conditions and the avenues available (e.g., CACI — Conditions AMEs Can Issue).
BasicMed provides yet another option, one that truly leaves no excuse for anything but full and frank discussion with your state-licensed physician about your health. Expressed in terms of the Compliance Philosophy, BasicMed (as well as the traditional avenues to medical certification) is about using open communication with your provider to find any health problems that could adversely affect your ability to safely operate an aircraft, to use the most appropriate treatments to fix those problems, and to monitor results to ensure that any health/safety issues are fully resolved.
Regardless of the route you take to meet one of the paths to aviation medical qualification, here are some tips to remember if your health is an issue.
Get the facts. Use the many resources available these days to learn as much as you can about the certification implications of your particular medical condition. A good place to start is the medical certification home page on the FAA’s website (faa.gov/pilots/medical), or the FAA’s BasicMed portal (faa.gov/go/basicmed).
Use all resources. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), and other aviation organizations provide BasicMed and traditional medical certification information, advice, and advocacy for their members.
Resolve the problem. Work with your physician to resolve any issues — remember that your health is the most important consideration, always.
Document. If your condition requires special issuance or (in the case of BasicMed) a one-time FAA approval, be sure to have your physician document the specifics, your treatment, and your prognosis in the format and level of detail that the FAA requires.
Doing your part will speed the FAA’s evaluation and get you back into the cockpit as quickly as possible — which is what all pilots want. (FAA Safety Briefing – JulAug2017)