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Thu, Jul 26, 2007

Medical Issues A Hot Topic At Oshkosh 2007

FAA Air Surgeon Sets Crowd Straight

by ANN Correspondent Chris Esposito

Aeromedical factors are often glossed over by most pilots studying for their checkrides. While usually not the most exciting topic, medical factors will eventually be incredibly important to each of us, especially as we grow older. On Wednesday, attendees anxiously awaited a presentation on the medical process given by FAA Air Surgeon Fred Tilton.

Murmers from the crowd indicate a substantial concern, particularly among the light sport aircraft crowd. Tilton has been with the FAA for some time, and has experience in making airspace safer, as well as approving the medicals of as many pilots as possible to fill that airspace. The crowd is looking to him to help straighten out some issues, as well as bring some clarity to the FAA's process.

Since most of the audience's concern seems to be centered on the sport pilot regulations, Tilton tackles the issue first. He points out that you can not fly under the sport pilot category if you have not received a certificate from your most recent drivers license application, and you can not operate under the sport pilot rules if your AME defers a medical and you do not straighten it out with additional tests within 30 days.

Special medical waivers, which normally last a year, are particularly hard to obtain for those with a history of recurring illness. To avoid having these people fall into a "black hole," Tilton says the FAA is considering appointing certain medical examiners to assist in the clearing process and approve medicals in a much quicker fashion. Furthering the planned increase in efficiency, the FAA is also using a new computer system to process waivers.

"They have a 21 day turnaround for waivers once you get all the info in. It's not a black hole." Tilton says.

Another efficient change is occurring among regional flight surgeons. Since the flight surgeons all have access to the same system, a pilot in an AME's office who wants to clear up a problem can have the AME call and fax documents to the regional flight surgeon. The flight surgeon can look at the new data and certify the airman immediately, without requiring a lengthy paperwork process or endless phone tag.

Surprisingly, after an audience member asked a question, Tilton mentioned a bit of a hole in the FAA's current medical system. If someone is afraid of failing a medical, there is nothing that prevents the AME from first giving the pilot a "physical" and not a medical examination. Any potential problem can be mentioned at this point and the medical would not be failed, as the physical was not truly a medical. While there are certainly some ethical questions here, the possibility remains that pilots who are not fit for a medical can be "pre-screened" and instead of failing, they can simply fly under the sport pilot rules with their driver's license. "We're not recommending it, but there's nothing wrong with it." says Tilton.

Recently, the first aviator with a heart transplant was granted a medical. "It was on Friday the 13th," says Tilton with a smile.

The FAA is also considering expanding the "drivers license medical" required by sport pilots to recreational pilots as well, though Tilton says there are no firm plans yet. With the increased efficiency of their medical processing capabilities and the option of going to selected AMEs to have issues straightened out, it seems that the process of applying for a medical is finally being streamlined.

FMI: www.faa.gov/pilots/medical/

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