Plane & Pilot
Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Telling The Truth On Your Medical


What You Need To Know


telling the truthA few days ago, I received a call from a pilot who was being seen by a physician in the emergency room. Did he want a second opinion? No, he wanted to know if the condition affected his medical certificate!
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telling the truthA few days ago, I received a call from a pilot who was being seen by a physician in the emergency room. Did he want a second opinion? No, he wanted to know if the condition affected his medical certificate!

The greatest fear among pilots is losing their medical certificate. Unfortunately, some choose to lie on their medical; if they’re discovered, they can get into serious trouble. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

The purpose of the medical certificate is to prove to the FAA that a person is medically fit to fly an aircraft and has little risk of sudden incapacitation during the certificate’s duration. Certificates expire sooner for people who work for hire, e.g., pilots of scheduled airlines, than for private or LSA pilots who fly purely for their own benefit. After all, the main difference between the different classes of exams is the vision requirement, and I’ve never heard anyone say that there are more vision-related accidents for third-class pilots than for first- or second-class aviators.

It’s extremely important for pilots to know how to handle a change in their medical status between exams, and how to best prepare for an upcoming medical after a change. There are definitely right ways and wrong ways to handle these situations, and some of the wrong ways will generate unneeded paperwork and lost time, jeopardizing the ability to fly.

telling the truthUnder CFR 61.53 (“Pilot Self-Grounding Requirements”), pilots are supposed to ground themselves and report any changes in condition to the FAA before they can fly again. These conditions are defined as “unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate,” which is intentionally vague. As listed in the Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners, there are several absolutes that require grounding and FAA notification. For instance, cancer isn’t on this list, but it generally requires a special issuance. Does this mean that pilots who are diagnosed with a superficial skin cancer need to ground themselves and report to the FAA before flying again? It’s difficult to get a consistent answer from different FAA representatives. Some say yes, some say no, and some say to use common sense.

My take is to call an aviation medical examiner (AME). They’re under no obligation to report your change in condition to the FAA, as long as you don’t fill out an 8500-8 medical form. If the AME says that you’re not grounded, I would keep a note about the phone call with a time and date, and continue to fly. If the AME says you have to ground yourself and report it before flying again, then you need to make a decision. Note that you don’t need to report a change in condition unless you want to operate an aircraft. CFR 61.53 has no reporting requirement. This is important to remember because if you develop a disqualifying condition that isn’t amenable to special issuance—say, for example, epilepsy and report it, the FAA will ask for your medical to be surrendered. That eliminates the right to fly.


Lying On Your Medical: The Consequences

Sixteen months in jail was the sentence Ronald Crews received on March 20, 2008, for lying on his pilot medical application. Crews pleaded guilty to not reporting insulin-dependent diabetes on his first-class medical. Prosecution of this case is the exception, however; the only reason it came to light was because Crews suffered a diabetic seizure during an air taxi flight in which a student pilot, who just happened to be on board, had to land the aircraft.

Another case of egregious lying on a medical was discovered in July 2005 in California, where the Department of Transportation Inspector General compared the Social Security numbers of people who were on Social Security disability with the Social Security numbers of pilots. The inspector found more than 3,200 pilots who claimed Social Security disability for conditions never reported on their pilot medical forms. This generated a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee oversight report that asked the FAA to screen all pilot medicals for fraud. In addition, the committee found that 10% of pilots involved in fatal accidents had positive postmortem drug tests for prescription drugs of which only 10% had been reported to the FAA.

There are more than 700,000 pilots in the United States, and the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute in Oklahoma City, Okla., barely has staff to keep up with the pilots who report their medical conditions, much less chase after ones who lie. The system relies on people being honest on their medical forms, as well as AMEs who look for signs of fraud at the time of the exam.

The penalty for lying is stiff—fines up to $250,000, up to five years imprisonment, and revocation of all pilot medicals and certificates. Although some pilots lie, some just don’t get medicals. The downside for the latter is not only breaking the FARs, but also chancing that insurance won’t pay in the event of an accident. The system must be working since only one half of one percent of all aviation accidents have a medical factor involve


The greatest fear among pilots is losing their medical certificate. unfortunately, some choose to lie on their medical; if they’re discovered, they can get into serious trouble.





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