“Losing my pilot’s medical certificate was harder than I thought it ever could have been. Ever since I was a young boy, all I wanted to do was fly airplanes. Suddenly, after being injured in a bike accident, that dream had come to an abrupt stop. It was a very emotional time,” says Rick Koubsky, BizJetJobs Founder and full-time Corporate Pilot.
“One of the hardest things was not traveling regularly. I missed spending time with work friends on the road. After traveling for 25 years it was very weird to be stuck in one place. I used to find it strange when I talked to retired Pilots looking for work flying after they retired. Now I have even more empathy for these guys who are not ready to hang up their headsets just yet.”
Pilots With Known Medical Issues: Whom to Call & When
When Rick informed his employer that he had contacted the FAA, there were questions from his co-workers and supervisor about whether that was the right decision. Rick stands by his decision to contact the FAA immediately after being diagnosed with the concussion.
“I was already thinking about my next medical exam, and that I’d have to report this. In airman’s medical exams, you’re required to report every doctor visit within the year, including any and all health problems, medications you are taking – everything,” he told us. “I’d have to be as truthful and honest about this accident as possible. It’s a federal offense to lie.”
Our Advice: Always Contact the FAA Right Away
According to AOPA’s guidance on the topic, if you are injured, sick or taking medication, your treating physician may not be as knowledgeable of the FAA’s medical standards as the FAA doctors who review your case. This is why, in the event of injury or other health-related event, contacting the FAA right away is probably your best line of defense against any questions. In the opinion of the treating physician, if the condition does not render you “unable to meet the requirements” of FAR Part 67, you may continue operating on your current medical until the normal date of expiration. However, the FAA has been known to disagree with the treating physician. If the FAA were to appeal your case to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Board is likely to go with the FAA’s judgment over that of the treating physician. So it’s our advice, further validated by Rick’s experience, that pilots always contact the FAA right away if there are changes related to your health.
Know the 15 Medical Conditions That Disqualify You From Flying
As a pilot, you need to be aware that Part 67 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) specifically mentions 15 medical conditions, by “history or clinical diagnosis,” that disqualify you from flying. These include:
- A personality disorder severe enough to have repeatedly manifested itself by overt acts
- A psychosis
- Bipolar disorder
- Substance dependence (including alcohol)
- Substance abuse
- Disturbance of consciousness without satisfactory explanation of the cause
- Transient loss of nervous system function (ex: blackouts, amnesia) without satisfactory explanation of the cause
- Diabetes requiring oral hypoglycemic medications or insulin
- Myocardial infarction (a.k.a. heart attack)
- Angina pectoris (a.k.a. chest pain or discomfort due to heart disease)
- Coronary heart disease that has required treatment or, if untreated, that has been symptomatic or clinically significant
- Cardiac valve replacement
- Permanent cardiac pacemaker
- Heart replacement
Also important to note, according to AOPA: FAR 61.53 and the FAA medical certification regulatory philosophy assumes that in addition to the above list, it’s common sense that pilots just don’t fly when they aren’t feeling well.
Rick’s Situation: When Self-Grounding is The Right Thing to Do
Rick was dealing with a bevy of issues since his accident: headaches, sleep problems, emotions out of whack, feeling in a “fog”, eye issues / double vision, confusion, blood in ear canal, lack of concentration. Ethically, he felt reporting his accident to the FAA was the right thing to do, as a pilot flying a plane with passengers on board, literally with their lives in his hands. The first part of FAR 61.53 says if a pilot “… knows or has reason to know of any medical condition that would make the person unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate necessary for the pilot operation,” it’s up to the pilot to make the determination that a medical condition requires “self-grounding.”
Bottom line, even if he hadn’t been experiencing the symptoms he was, Rick wanted to avoid any safety and legal issues. He stayed the course and was open and honest with the FAA.
Seeking Professional Counsel: Who Can Help?
After contacting the FAA, Rick and his wife began consulting with an aviation lawyer because of the complications of dealing with insurance, doctors and the FAA.
“We didn’t want the hassle of dealing with insurance companies on top of all of the recovery issues, FAA paperwork, doctor’s appointments and more,” said Rick’s wife. “We also still didn’t know if Rick would ever fly again.”
Because Rick was a pedestrian struck by a vehicle, the next series of calls were to their own auto insurance company to file a claim. As a pedestrian, you are covered by your auto insurance when you are struck by someone else’s vehicle.
“If had to do over, I would have also consulted with the Aviation Medicine Advisory Service (AMAS) right away to help navigate the process,” says Rick.
Stay tuned! Part 3 of this series will cover Rick’s experience with AMAS, and how he got his airman’s medical certificate back.
You can read the rest of our blog series on Losing Your Pilot’s Medical Certificate here: