By Mary Grady, Contributing editor
All applications for medical and student pilot certificates will be filed electronically instead of on paper by Oct. 1, the FAA said last week. In the January issue of the FAA Medical Bulletin (PDF), Federal Air Surgeon Dr. Fred Tilton said the paper system "allows for too many errors, leads to storage problems, and creates security risks." It also costs the FAA $150,000 every year to print, store, distribute, and mail Form 8500-8. The electronic MedXPress system will eliminate those problems and expenses, and will make it possible to offer new services -- for example, Tilton said, pilots and AMEs will be able to track the status of applications online. EAA and AOPA raised concerns about the change.
Pilots who use a public computer at a library or a public wi-fi connection "could potentially compromise the security of medical information," AOPA said. The change also raises questions about how the application might be modified in the future. "The paper document, Form 8500-8, has been subject to approval by the Office of Management and Budget before any changes can be made, and it is not yet clear whether elimination of the paper document will affect that procedure," AOPA said. Sean Elliott, EAA's vice president of industry and regulatory affairs, said EAA's main concern is that a lack of education by the FAA for both pilots and AMEs "will lead to confusion." EAA also wants the FAA to ensure that AMEs who don't do a lot of medical exams each year are familiar with the online process, and to clarify at what point in time the online application becomes "official" and the applicant can no longer withdraw it. Tilton said the FAA will discuss the changes with pilots at safety meetings, at Sun 'n Fun and AirVenture, and at AME seminars. He also said the FAA plans to transition air traffic controllers to the MedXPress system in the future.
Dr. Brent Blue, a senior AME in Wyoming, told AVweb he's been using MedXPress for all his pilot clients for about a year, and "generally, the system works well." Click here for a PDF with the full text of Dr. Blue's comments about the pros and cons of the system for pilots and AMEs.