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News and Views


March 31, 2006    Volume 6, Number 14

EAA's Advocacy and Members Help Bring Change to
FAA Medical Certificate Processing and Reduction in Backlog

Backlog Reduction is first goal; More dramatic improvements seen in the future

Among the most important ongoing issues facing the pilot community has been FAA's backlog in special issuance medical certifications, as well as the cost and difficulty associated with obtaining and renewing a special issuance medical. This issue will become pronounced in the future as the current pilot population ages, because of the added cost and complexity to maintain flying privileges. Eventually, nearly every pilot may face a choice between giving up flying or requesting a special issuance medical certification.

That's why EAA has committed to finding a solution to the long, costly and sometimes exasperating process to an issue that affects or will affect many of its members. The issue came to a head at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2005, when the majority of questions fielded by FAA Administrator Marion Blakey at her annual Meet the Administrator session were from pilots concerned or upset about delayed special issuance certificate applications.

Following EAA AirVenture 2005, EAA's Aeromedical Advisory Council, a group of volunteer flight surgeons who serve as a reservoir of aeromedical expertise to EAA and its members, developed a plan to attack the problem. Based on this proposal submitted to FAA last December, EAA officials received an invitation from FAA Associate Administrator Nick Sabatini and new FAA Flight Surgeon Dr. Fred Tilton to visit FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C., for the purpose of discussing the recommendations. A review of new agency actions in response to EAA's proposal to improve special issuance processing was also part of the session. The meeting to review EAA's proposal and new agency actions was held Thursday, March 30, with Mr. Sabatini, Dr. Tilton, and Peggy Gilligan, FAA Deputy Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety.

EAA President Tom Poberezny and EAA Aeromedical Advisory Council Chairman Dr. Jack Hastings led the EAA delegation that also included Dr. Richard Jennings, EAA Aeromedical advocate and incoming President of the Aerospace Medicine Association (AsMA); Earl Lawrence, EAA Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs; and Doug Macnair, EAA Vice President of Government Relations.

EAA's recommendations to FAA for improving medical certification processing were summarized in four points:

1. Review of interval between examinations (e.g. one year instead of six months for first class examinations, and five years for third-class medical certificates).

2. Review of special issuance medical conditions with the potential for complete elimination of some and/or reduced reporting requirements for others.

3. A "Super AME" concept, including the delegation of additional review and approval authority to Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs) who are willing to assume the responsibility and have demonstrated competency in aeromedical disposition.

4. Review of the third-class airman medical certification system with considerations ranging from elimination of the certificate to more relaxed medical requirements.

Sabatini commented that EAA's recommendations were "right on target." FAA responded with a
series of actions intended to address the special issuance medical certification backlog. The actions FAA has proposed, or are continuing to work on behind the scenes, address all of EAA's recommendations.

FAA is taking the following immediate steps to ease the special issuance backlog, while EAA and FAA continue to work on more sweeping, long-term improvements:
  • Farming out special issuance cases electronically from the Civil Aeromedical Branch in Oklahoma City to the FAA regional flight surgeons, effectively increasing the number of doctors available to review and approve special issuance applications.
  • Expanding the list of approved conditions for which medical examiners may renew special issuance certificates under the Aviation Medical Examiner Assisted Special Issuance (AASI) process. This process allows medical examiners to renew special issuances directly instead of sending them to FAA for review.
  • Undertake an extensive communications effort to educate medical examiners and encourage them to participate more fully in the AASI process. This can dramatically ease the renewal of special issuances. FAA is enlisting EAA, the EAA Aeromedical Advocates, the Civil Aviation Medical Association, and other associations to assist in distributing information about the new AASI program and to help encourage both doctors and medical certificate applicants to take advantage of the program instead of deferring the renewal of special issuances to FAA.
  • FAA has pledged to address EAA's longer-term recommendations for increased certificate duration and explore opportunities for greater delegation of authority from the FAA to the Aviation Medical Examiner (EAA's "Super AME" proposal). These proposals are long-term efforts because they require addition rulemaking, but the agency is willing to undertake significant changes in these areas.

EAA is pleased that FAA addressed the concerns expressed by EAA members and the pilot community during AirVenture 2005. In addition, FAA officials responded to the practical recommendations of the EAA and EAA Aeromedical Council. The agency is making a significant effort by implementing actions to address the problem.

FAA's proposed actions are a first step in addressing pilots' concerns. EAA and the EAA Aeromedical Council will continue to work with the FAA to ensure that these efforts are implemented, and will quantitatively and qualitatively measure the effect they have on pilots who are obtaining special issuance medicals.

"The EAA Aeromedical Advisory Council has done outstanding work in outlining the current situation and providing solutions," Poberezny added. "Enacting the Council's recommendations will streamline the processing of medical applications without compromising air safety."

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