Fighting For Your Pilot Medical

Aviation Medical

New mediation allows pilots to advocate for their pilot medical without a lawyer

As a thyroid cancer survivor, I am no stranger to the angst involved with losing my pilot medical and then waiting an eternity to get it back. And I know I’m not alone. It seems like pilots will do anything to avoid a trip to the doctor or ER, especially if we feel that such a visit could raise red flags at our next pilot medical appointment. But is saving our career really worth the risk of losing our lives?

To receive proper treatment, a person must be completely open and honest with his/her physician. Obviously there is no way to hide illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and heart issues from your doctor, but what about that brief pain in your chest, or the time you passed out, or felt that something wasn’t quite right? What do you do then? If you’re like most pilots, you shrug it off and hope it was nothing. 

Professional pilots really are in a unique situation. One of the oldest legal protections provided in our country is the physician-patient privilege. Unfortunately, pilots are exempt from this rule. The FAA can jump in anytime and request any or all of your medical records and there’s not a thing you can do about it. Oh, you can refuse to provide the information, but then the FAA may suspend, modify, or revoke your medical certificate on the spot. And if you fly for a living like I did, well…. I hope you have good loss-of-license insurance.

But there might be help on the horizon.

There is a new alternative path available to pilots who have been told they are no longer fit to fly. In the past, the only option was to wait it out or hire an attorney and maybe even a medical expert who was willing to testify on your behalf. Recently, however, there have been a variety of “aero-medical advocacy services” popping up to provide a far more efficient and cost-effective solution to medical disputes. 

Instead of hiring a general attorney to argue against an FAA attorney in front of an NTSB judge, you can now hire a medical advocate to speak directly with the FAA’s medical experts. Removing the lawyers from the discussion will instantly take the hostility factor down several notches and will also improve communication by having the pilot’s doctor talk directly to the FAA’s doctor.

The Air Line Pilots Association, the Allied Pilots Association, and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association all provide aero-medical advocacy services to their members. Services are also available to corporate flight departments and will undoubtedly be an important part of the future of aviation. 

As the pilot population ages and the pilot shortage becomes more visible, it is critical to revamp the archaic method for reviewing pilot medical issues so pilots are not unjustly grounded. This is definitely a step in the right direction.

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