FAA Amends Mental Health Evaluation Criteria For Pilots


A history of no more than two mental health diagnoses no longer requires automatic review by the FAA for any class of pilot certificate as long as certain criteria are met. The agency has revised its guidance to AMEs on “uncomplicated anxiety, depression and related conditions” and chief among the changes is that the FAA can be left out of the process if the pilot has been off medication for two years, there are no issues raised by a questionnaire and the AME has no concerns.

The questionnaire deals with serious mental health issues like suicidal thoughts, self-harm and whether or not the pilot has been hospitalized or been under court-ordered evaluation, and it reminds the AME to be thorough and conservative in his or her judgment. “If ALL items fall into the ‘NO’/CLEAR COLUMN, the AME may issue with notes in Block 60 which show the AME discussed the history of Uncomplicated Anxiety, Depression, and Related Conditions, found no positives to the screening questions, AND had no concerns,” the new guidance reads. “If ANY SINGLE ITEM falls into the ‘YES’/SHADED COLUMN, the AME MUST DEFER” (emphasis the FAA’s).

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


    • Based on the current political climate in this country and all the mayhem around the world, most everyone is a little nuts all the time!

  1. It’s a step in the right direction, but the FAA still has to do more. For starters, giving the AMEs more authority to actually evaluate the person right in front of them, or at least give more weight to their evaluation when deferring. For another, more transparency from the FAA about their actual medical stats. They often tout that “most pilots walk out of the AME’s office with a medical”, but what they leave out is that the FAA can overrule the AME and either deny the medical or ask for more information (and failure to provide the information leads to the medical being revoked).

    • Exactly! It’s a bit bizarre that the FAA consider their own staff looking at paperwork in OKC superior at evaluating a person than the licensed doctor that is actually looking at and speaking with the person in question. I still say the most telling thing is what appears in accident reports. It’s become standard to see traces of prescription drugs for everything from anxiety, to depression and cardiovascular issues in autopsy reports. But it’s also very rare that the NTSB indicates those medications were a contributing factor in the accident. It’s more common that the NTSB states they were not a factor. That should be the most telling thing– the worst accidents are almost never caused by prescription medication regardless of type. I’m not sure what information the FAA is basing their standards on, but it sure seems like actual pilot performance should be the primary data used.

  2. Ultimately it’s up to us to self-police ourselves. For a great example of how ordinary, common stress producing events in our life can compromise our flying in a deadly way, watch the AOPA Safety video entitled: No Greater Burden.

  3. I am a conservative pilot and take training and safety very seriously. I spent decades terrified of the FAA because I was misdiagnosed as depressed and anxious. I am late diagnosed ADHD and autistic. ADHD is extremely misunderstood. I stand out in situations that require multi-tasking and emergency situations where quick analysis and thinking are required. I am not on any medications that cause jitters or fatigue. I have known pilots who are going through acute stressors and would benefit from therapy/ medication but refuse to go for fear of losing their license. What’s worse? Having someone lie and hide their issues or have the ability to deal with their issues head on…sort themselves out without the added fear and stigma of losing something so key to their being. For me, personally, I could be having a stressful day but as soon as I drive into the airport a wave of calm, serenity washes over me. Nothing more therapeutic than taking to the skies, especially on a pleasant day with the doors off and the sound of the rotor thumping above you.

    • I have been saying for quite a while now that the FAA’s view on mental health is very much counterproductive and actually reduces overall safety. Even they must know that pilots are either hiding facts about mental health treatment and/or avoiding treatment for very treatable conditions.

  4. I contend that anyone who follows current events should be required to be on medication for “uncomplicated anxiety, depression and related conditions”. If you don’t need it, you’ve got a bigger problem with apathy, empathy, and sociopathy.

    • God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

      The Serenity Prayer – no medication required.

      • Sometimes the “courage to change the things I can” means asking for professional help when it’s needed. Which, currently, the FAA still mostly shuns against when it comes to mental health treatment requiring medication.

  5. If there’s ANYBODY who needs mental health evaluations, it is these FOUR individuals who were complicitly involved with the events on 9/11/2001, which to date remains an UNSOLVED CRIME OF MASS MURDER, because there were NO ‘HI-JACKERS’ or ‘RED BANDANA’s’, the latter being someone’s Hollywood style wet dream: (1) U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta; (2) FAA Administrator Jane F. Garvey; (3) FAA National Operations Manager Benedict L. Sliney; and, (4) the Mayor of New York at that time, Rudy Giuliani, whose Emergency Bunker in WTC 7 collapsed in its own foot print with demolition charges many hours after the 9/11 main event. Maybe George Dubya can ‘help’ Rudy remember what actually happened – because the whole thing was a TOTAL FRAUD perpetrated on the Republic and the People of the United States of America – and which put into place pre-planned draconian laws under the pre-written so-called “Patriot Act” which has ingested all of us into a Communist form of governance, surveillance and control. Just think about the TSA grope and feel nonsense every time you board a commercial airliner.

    The run-up ‘practice session’ for 9/11 was held on June 1 & 2, 2001, which was a SEADS operation called “OPERATION AMALGAM VIRGO 01” – a Combined JOINT training event for a Non-Conventional Threat. It even pictured Osama bin Laden on the cover of the publication. The military war games exercise went LIVE on 9/11 with multiple cutout patsies. America was brought to its knees and terrorism was brought upon a civilian population by those who were entrusted to to serve and protect. Many thousands of people were murdered.

    It is now known that 9/11 was a LONG-PLANNED EVENT to usher in ALL of the Wars we’ve been witness to in the Middle East since 9/11, with planning done by the NEOCONS of PNAC – The Plan For A New American Century, involving the highest echelons of the U.S. Government and destabilization programs being administered by the CIA and the U.S. State Department.


      • Just about ready for the application of the tin foil… The sheer caliber of nuts on display is amazing. Robo comments should be deleted on sight.

      • Really, Elton? You’ve obviously been watching your JumboTron Tel-A-Lie-Vision set to your mental and cognitive demise, and apparently suffering from a long series of Cognitive Dissonance issues with the Truth. Better do some self-investigation into the LIES you’ve believed so far!

  6. I have often said, “Which is a bigger threat to aviation safety: A pilot with mental health issues who does not seek treatment so they can avoid telling the FAA, or a pilot who does seek treatment?” It is good to hear that the FAA is moving in a direction to accept the latter.

  7. My wife has her PPL and had her own aircraft. Our family DR suggested she might benifit from attension deficit medication. She tryed it and was pleased with her better focus and attention.
    She then found out the med is on the FAA “no fly list”, she had to sell her aircraft and quit flying. She has been on the medication ever since and has no attension deficit now.
    She could fly if she did not take the medication, but cannot fly because she takes a med that solvede her problem. Makes no sence at all!

  8. I applaud this step for the FAA, but am worried about implementation. If a pilot now chooses to self-disclose during their next medical exam and qualifies for the new process, will they be at risk of sanction for having previously NOT disclosed their uncomplicated anxiety/depression? If there is no prescribed grace period, for lack of a better term, changing your answer…then what is to stop sanctions being imposed on pilots for having previously “lied” on medical applications?