Probably the one thing that pilots fret more about than anything else is seeing their aviation medical examiner to renew a medical certificate. We’re an aging population with an increasing amount of pathology, and having a medical deferred by the medical examiner for anything is the last thing we want to have happen. The medical certification process can get really messy in a hurry if a medical application or the physical exam reveals anything that requires additional information for the FAA’s review. If there isn’t any supporting documentation for the aviation medical examiner to review, a deferral is probably in your future, and that could mean being without a medical for weeks if not months.
Fast forward a bit, past all the frustration of getting information to the FAA, waiting for a decision, and finally getting the medical certificate in hand. Depending upon the condition, the medical could be tied to a special issuance authorization that limits the duration of the medical and that requires annual or more frequent follow-up testing for continued certification.
Years ago, AOPA worked with the FAA on an initiative to improve the efficiency of the review and certificate issuance process. The result of that effort is the Six Year Authorization that allows medical examiners to reissue certificates for about 40 different medical conditions, after the FAA has cleared the case initially. This is a major improvement in the way the FAA does certification because it “decentralizes” to some extent the medical oversight process, and puts more decision-making authority in the hands of the AME. The pilot, of course, still has to undergo the required testing or obtain the needed reports from the treating doctor annually, but the process bypasses the lengthy wait while the FAA staff wades through the queue of pending cases.
The FAA is still swamped, and as of this post, remains under a mandatory partial shutdown because of the failure of congress to pass funding legislation in light of the pending debt limit crisis. The writing on the wall suggests that government funding shortfalls will be the rule and not the exception going forward, so FAA medical certification programs will continue to be resource-strapped.
Recently, we’ve seen a spike in the number of members who have one of these Six Year Authorizations (and you’ll know it’s a six year auth because it says that at the beginning of the letter that comes with the medical certificate) but for some reason have chosen to send their records to the FAA instead of taking them to the AME for reissuance. I’m not sure what’s going on here, but it could be that pilots either aren’t carefully reading those six year letters and don’t know that their AMEs can reissue, even in the off-year when they are not due for an FAA physical exam, or they think that since in the past the FAA reissued their certificates reasonably quickly, they don’t need to take advantage of the AME-issuance option. Granted, these six year letters are a little complicated to read and understand, and there is language in the letter that states that if the airman doesn’t want to take the records to the AME for an office issuance, they can send the records to the FAA for approval. We strongly suggest that you don’t do that unless you’re not in any big hurry to fly.
If you have a the luxury of a six year authorization, use it, even if you have to pay the AME a few bucks for his/her time to process the records. For most pilots, the cost is well worth it to be able to walk out the door with a new medical certificate in hand with no lapse in flying privileges.
Here’s a tip: If you will be reporting anything new on your next medical application, be it a medical condition, a visit to health professionals, or a new medication, do your pre-medical briefing and know what records you will need for the AME. If it is something fairly straightforward, like a new prescription for blood pressure medication or a back surgery for a disc removal without complications, the AME may be able to issue your medical in the office if you have the basic evaluation for the condition. Even if the condition requires a deferral, having good supporting documentation when you see the AME will save you a lot of time and will get you certified faster. AOPA Online is an excellent resource for medical certification information, and you can give us a call at 800 872 2672 and speak with our medical certification specialists for even more detailed information about your particular situation.
Fly Safe, and fly often!