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So, You Thought You Had a Current Medical?

By Robert Martens
Reprinted with permission of FAA Aviation News

As a Safety Program Manager in a Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), I meet with the aviation public at least twice every week. And while I only reach a small segment of the aviators within our district, several years ago an inordinate number of program attendees asked why they were no longer receiving their monthly Aviation Safety Program Seminar announcement through the mail. Since only the holders of a current medical receive the announcement, which is mailed from Oklahoma City, my first question was whether or not they had a current medical. When they responded 'yes' I knew we had a problem.

After checking their records on the FAA database, it was plain to see that their most recent medical information had not reached Oklahoma City, and all of these individuals had been to the same aviation medical examiner (AME) The short version of this story is that this medical examiner 'resigned' as an AME, but where did it leave the folks who went to him for FAA examinations? Were they legal or not?

In the early 1990's, similar questions from pilots in southern Connecticut revealed that an FAA designated medical examiner was performing medical examinations and not passing along the files to Oklahoma City. The most ironic incident that I uncovered was the AME who asked me about the status of HIS examination, only to find that his examiner had not forwarded the file. Subsequent follow up on the other pilots revealed the files were still 'sitting' in the medical examiner's office, while the unsuspecting pilots were flying with no record of their examination on file with FAA. The doctor was removed as an examiner, but countless pilots were left in limbo as to the status of their medical certification.

Why is this a problem, you might ask? Well, the answer is very simple. Should these unfortunate individuals have been involved in a fatal aircraft accident and have the only valid copy of their medical on their person, it may or may not be discovered by the accident investigators. And, if it weren't, the investigation would likely conclude that the individual was flying with an outdated medical certificate. Could this affect the insurance or liability claims? I think so!

If these incidents happened back in the 1990's, why am I bringing it up now'especially with the new computerized system of filing medicals?

Recently I heard of another incident in the Washington, DC area when a pilot was applying for a security clearance to get out of Hyde Field in Maryland (one of the three remaining restricted airports). When the FAA safety inspector pulled up his records, it showed that the pilot didn't have a current medical. This was odd because the inspector had seen the copy of his medical when the pilot had come in to fill out the paperwork. What had happened? In this case the AME had moved to a new office days after the flight physical was completed. In the confusion of the move, the medical information was never transmitted to FAA. Fortunately, the pilot had no plans to fly any time soon, because it took three weeks to locate the missing papers and have them forwarded to Oklahoma City. However, for several months the pilot thought he was legal to fly. He was fortunate that nothing happened.

How do pilot's know that their FAA medical is on file? At one time, unless they happen to tune in to the fact that they have stopped receiving their FAA Safety Seminar schedule each month, they would have to ask an FAA safety inspector to check it out for them. However, now airmen are able to look it up themselves by going to the FAA's web site. You just fill in the required information, and the site will tell you what certificates you hold and the date of the last medical Oklahoma City has on file. Medical information is derived from the records of the FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI). If the medical dates are incorrect, you can contact the CAMI at (406) 964-4821. The airmen inquire site can be found by clicking here.

Let's go back to the accident scene and the only record of the poor pilot's medical examination has gone up in flames with the aircraft. What could the pilot have done to protect his/hers family against liability claims and the possible voiding of the insurance policy? Some pilots keep copies of their logbook showing their endorsement and currency history in a file at home in case something happens to the originals. It might be a good idea to also keep copies of your most recent medical and pilot certificates with them. This way, if something happens to the originals, you will at least have a copy until you can replace them. Also, in the event that the worst happens, your family might need them to prove you were current and legal.

So, you thought you had a current medical. Are you sure? If you think there is a problem, check the FAA web site to see if the date listed is that of your most recent medical. If not, check with your AME and find out what happened.

Robert Martens is the Safety Program Manager at the Windsor Locks (CT) FSDO.