With the inauguration of BasicMed — which begins as I write this column on the long-awaited May 1, 2017 start date — pilots in the United States now have a brand-new medical qualification option. As John Duncan observes in this issue’s Jumpseat column, though, BasicMed privileges come with the responsibility to take our fitness to fly very seriously.
Of course that is true regardless of your medical certificate category. Whether you fly with the new BasicMed, as a sport pilot with the “driver’s license medical,” as a private pilot with a third-class medical, as a commercial pilot on a second-class medical, or as an airline transport pilot on a first-class medical, the FAA and the regulations (14 CFR section 61.53, to be precise) expect you to exercise judgment about your health and fitness for flight before every flight you take.
As an instructor, I generally present this idea with a mechanical (airworthiness) analogy. I once sent a student out to preflight a Cessna 152, after we had jointly verified that it was airworthy in terms of compliance with applicable Airworthiness Directives and required inspections. When he got to the airplane, though, he found an impressive puddle of oil under the nose, one that was visibly expanding with a steady drip-drip-drip from the engine compartment. Solid paperwork notwithstanding, clearly our little bird was in no condition for safe flight.
So it is with human airworthiness. Your medical certificate — a term I use here to encompass everything from a driver’s license medical to BasicMed to the standard medical certificate classes — is valid only as long as you meet the criteria under which it was authorized or issued. As stated in 14 CFR 61.53, no pilot can fly if the pilot “knows or has reason to know of any medical condition that would make the person unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate necessary for the pilot operation.” That includes taking medication or receiving treatment for any medical condition that would render you unable to meet the requirements for a medical certificate. In all cases, the rules state that you must not act as pilot in command, or as a required flight crew member, if you know or have any reason to know of a medical condition that would make you unable to operate the aircraft in a safe manner.
Pilot Preflight Primer
Sometimes it’s obvious that you are medically unfit to fly: ailments like a ferocious head cold, an ear infection, or a stomach bug leave little doubt.
In other cases, it may be less clear. While there have always been multiple sources of information to help you determine your fitness for any given flight, one of the many benefits of BasicMed is the associated development of FAA-approved courses designed specifically for this purpose. At this writing, the AOPA-developed BasicMed course is up and running, with another course by the Mayo Clinic expected to be available soon.
Even though I don’t have any immediate plans to use BasicMed, I took the AOPA course as soon as it became available. I highly recommend it to all my fellow aviators. As with AOPA’s other safety courses, the BasicMed offering is well-designed, well-paced, and packed with useful information. It is accessible via desktop computer or iPad, and you have the option of switching between the two if you need to pause and pick up again later.
Organizations such as AOPA and EAA have extensive BasicMed resources on their websites, but there’s also a lot of information on the FAA’s website. Resources (see below) include a dedicated BasicMed page with detailed information on the regulation, a set of frequently asked questions, links to the industry-developed courses, and to the BasicMed Comprehensive Medical Examination Checklist (CMEC) you will need to complete with a state-licensed physician. As you will see when reviewing the CMEC, it essentially asks the physician to complete a physical examination and affirm the absence of any medical condition that could interfere with the safe operation of an aircraft — which is a goal we can all support. (FAA Safety Briefing – JulAug2017)