The FAA has just released guidance to Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs) on how they should treat patients who have had contracted COVID-19, and the news, as you might already be guessing, isn’t great.
For the past year, AMEs have been left to their own devices, and many of them have asked the FAA for more guidance on the subject. The FAA’s medical division is known for being a staid, deliberative body, and one that’s exceptionally conservative in its policies and dealings with pilots. Consequently, it’s not a surprise that it’s taken the FAA so long to issue such guidance, but it’s sorely needed. The letter, which went out to AMEs nationwide, divides pilots (and air traffic controllers, as well) into five separate groups (the wording is ours):
- Asymptomatic or Mild. Those who had an asymptomatic case or a mild case with full recovery.
- Recovered and Never Hospitalized. Fully recovered people who had a more “prolonged” case but were never admitted to the hospital, whether or not they had symptoms at the time.
- Hospitalized but No ICU. Those hospitalized but who never had to go into intensive care.
- *Hospitalized with ICU: Those pilots and controllers who were hospitalized and had to go into an intensive care ward.
- *Ongoing Symptoms: Pilots and controllers who had Covid-19 and are suffering ongoing symptoms. Those include but are not limited to “cardiovascular dysfunction, respiratory abnormalities, kidney injury, neurological dysfunction, psychiatric conditions (e.g., depression, anxiety, moodiness), or symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, arthralgia, or chest pain.”
In the latter two cases, AMEs will need to defer the exam of the pilot or controller and put it in the FAA’s court to deal with. With similar conditions, the FAA will require what is often expensive medical testing before they will issue the pilot medical certification.
The FAA’s issuance of these guidelines is good in that AMEs have a standard of care to refer to when they deal with pilots and controllers who did get COVID-19. At the same time, the new rules take a certain amount of professional discretion out of the hands of AMEs, many of whom would surely use their medical expertise to evaluate the applicant and despite a history of Covid would conduct the exam instead of referring the applicant to the FAA’s medical division.