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 truthWhat should you do if you need to report your change in medical condition, or are getting ready to report it on your next AME checkup? The most important thing is to collect all your medical records. This mainly includes all dictated reports and test results. Consult the FAA’s website (, which lists disease protocols and includes all the information and current testing required for certification. Because there are time limitations, remember to check this site before beginning any required testing. For instance, testing can’t be done prior to six months since a cardiac event (not one day sooner), and follow-up testing (usually) needs to be within 90 days of the application. There are also certain requirements for the type of testing and how the tests are performed. Also, the FAA generally wants the actual tracings or film (CD or DVD) of tests—not just the interpretation by local doctors. Again, check with the FAA first.

Most times, the FAA will require a letter from the treating doctor for a summary of the pilot’s current condition; this letter is critical. It’s reasonable to have your physician write a draft letter, then show it to the AME to see if it contains the right information and proper wording. Sometimes the wording, which may seem innocuous in the “normal” medical world, can send up warning flares at the FAA. Probably the most important sentence a physician can write in the referral letter is the statement, “This patient is no more likely to be suddenly incapacitated than someone from the general population.” This wording is welcomed by the FAA.

Always send in all your paperwork together via a signed courier like UPS or FedEx. Make a copy of everything you send and note the date it was sent. (Keeping a copy of the delivery confirmation is helpful.) With pilots for whom I do Special Issuance medicals, I’ll send the required paperwork with the 8500-8 medical form (just to keep everything together for the FAA). If you send the 8500-8 separately, a letter may be generated asking for more information, and you won’t know whether that’s because the records haven’t reached the FAA or just because the documents got crossed in the mail.

Another important consideration is your choice of AME. As a general rule, you should choose AMEs who are pilots and have a reputation for helping other aviators with medical problems. Generally, AMEs who aren’t pilots don’t seem to work as hard to keep pilots in the air. Nothing can be worse than an AME who defers a medical exam for further consideration when the person could have issued the medical on the spot had he or she just made a phone call to the Regional Flight Surgeon or the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute in Oklahoma City, Okla.

AMEs can also provide consultation (some will do it by phone) before the medical exam to discuss any potentially problematic conditions and how to present them to the FAA. A few pilots will come in for a “mock” exam without any paperwork being filled out, just to see if they would pass the real thing. Without an 8500-8 form being filled out, the worse-case scenario is the cost of the exam. Nothing can be sent to the FAA without the medical form being filled out.

One problem that pilots can experience is erroneous diagnosis and improper treatment by private physicians. An incredible number of pilots get put on medications “willy-nilly,” which can have serious, adverse consequences for their medical certification. Depression is an example. For instance, a pilot who’s experiencing bad feelings during a divorce may be prescribed antidepressants by his or her doctor. Not only are these drugs not very useful for short-duration, situational depression, but they also cause a world of cost and paperwork for pilots who must now demonstrate to the FAA that they don’t suffer from serious depression. Before starting any medication, don’t hesitate to call your AME or check online sites like AOPA ( to see if it might jeopardize your medical certification.

As one experienced AME use to say, “We all are only one medical away from being an ultralight pilot!”

Dr. Brent Blue is an FAA Senior Aviation Medical Examiner who owns, a provider of GA medical and safety equipment. E-mail him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Lying On Your Medical: The Consequences

• Angina pectoris
• Bipolar disorder
• Cardiac valve replacement
• Coronary heart disease that has required treatment or, if untreated, that has been symptomatic or clinically significant
• Diabetes mellitus requiring insulin or other hypoglycemic medication
• Disturbance of consciousness without satisfactory medical explanation of the cause
• Epilepsy

• Heart replacement
• Myocardial infarction
• Permanent cardiac pacemaker
• Personality disorder that’s severe enough to have repeatedly manifested itself by overt acts
• Psychosis
• Substance abuse and dependence
• Transient loss of control of nervous system function(s) without satisfactory medical explanation of cause
(Source: Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners, last update November 26, 2007)


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