Is FAA's Web-Based
Technology Investment Justified?
FAA Administrator Reports Progress
Reprinted with permission from Mike Wayda
by Mike Wayda
The Federal Aviation Administration has made a huge
investment in innovative technology and procedures to make same-day medical
certification for pilots a reality. Just how effective were these efforts?
FAA Administrator Marion Blakey,
speaking to an audience of pilots at the Experimental Aircraft Association's
2006 AirVenture' Fly-In at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, declared, "You wanted the Federal
Air Surgeon to modify the medical certification system to reduce delays airmen
were experiencing in the issuance of medical waivers. That's just what we did.
We've been making changes incrementally for quite some time, and the IT
[information technology] investment'handling these electronically'is paying
Administrator Blakey and senior FAA
staff had a productive visit at the annual fly-in. Because of the Office of
Aerospace Medicine's innovations to resolve the backlog in special issuance
medicals, there were virtually no complaints on this usually hot topic at this
year's "Meet the Administrator" session. The following excerpts are from the
Administrator's remarks that pertained to certification:
"The changes we've made have
reduced the average waiting time for a special issuance waiver from several
months to 16 days. Now, averages are just that'an average'and some of you have
likely waited longer than the average to get your certificate. That's because we
do continue to see some very complex cases that require analysis and expert
"But more than 90% of the pilots
who walk through the aviation medical examiner's door get their medicals on the
spot. The other 10% now are looking at what's essentially a two-week wait. And
that's as it should be. So, how did we do it?"
Reducing the Backlog
Working with the aviation community
to identify ways to improve certification workflow, ideas were proposed,
evaluated, and then enacted. "Specifically, we convened groups of FAA flight
surgeons to process cases in the queue for review. This reduced the backlog
immediately. Other groups will be convened whenever necessary to deal with
future backlogs. We modified the system so that most cases can be reviewed
electronically instead of manually. We also made it so that the regions can work
cases that previously could only be worked by the Aerospace Medical
Certification Division in Oklahoma.
"We expanded the aviation medical
examiner assisted special issuance process that allows the AME to issue waivers
for specific medical conditions. We increased it from 20 conditions to 35
conditions'renal cancer, melanoma, bladder cancer, heart attacks, bypass
surgery, to name a few. We also actively pursued the EAA and other associations
to encourage AMEs to participate in the special issuance process."
New Rules to Reduce Certification
"We didn't stop there. We started a
rulemaking process that will propose to extend the interval for first-class
medical certification from six months to one year. For third-class medicals for
pilots under 40'from three years to five years. These two interval changes are
consistent with the changes that ICAO [International Civil Aviation
Organization] is making. It is estimated that these two changes will reduce
annual applications by 75,000 and therefore provide better, quicker service to
"Better Than 30 days"
Because medical certification is an
issue that affects every pilot, the aviation community is greatly interested in
getting speedy results. Blakey pointed out that while the FAA certifies about
450,000 pilots per year, "the goal is to get better than 30 days and maintain
it. We're there. But I promise you we're pushing to get better."
Mike Wayda is the Editor of the
Federal Air Surgeon's Medical Bulletin. This article was originally published in
the 2006-3 issue of the Federal Air Surgeon's Medical Bulletin.