FAA Sends Letter To Pilots Re: Medications

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The FAA is sending a letter and fact sheet to all U.S. pilots to make them aware of the potentially negative effects that certain types of common over-the-counter and prescription drugs could have on the safety of flight. Specifically, the FAA notes the "sedative effects" caused by "many medications" and the ability of some medications to cause cognitive impairment. It also emphasizes the "subtle degradation of the ability to competently evaluate actual IMPAIRMENT [sic]" caused by some medications. According to the FAA, medications that are prohibited by the agency are found to be a factor in roughly 12 percent of fatal GA accidents. Along with those warnings, the FAA also offers guidance.

The letter lists four ways that pilots can reduce the risk of being impaired by medication. It asks pilots to educate themselves by reading documentation and asking their doctor about medications they are using, specifically with regard to their impact on the performance of complex tasks like flying. The FAA warns pilots not to fly until at least five maximal dosing intervals have passed. That translates to waiting 30 hours to fly after taking a medication that can be administered every four to six hours. The agency asks pilots to apply the illness, medication, stress, alcohol, fatigue, emotion checklist (IM SAFE) and step back from flying activities if the checklist suggests you may be distracted or impaired in your assessment or decision-making due to use of any medication. Finally it reminds pilots that expert guidance is available from designated FAA Medical Examiners. Find the full text of the letter online here (PDF).