NBAA Notes Improvement In FAA’s Views On Medical/Mental Health Issues


The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) has been very involved in advocating for pilots dealing with medical and mental health issues. The trade association wants to ensure those pilots can continue to fly “as long as it’s safe to do so.” While NBAA is primarily focused on career aviators, its efforts on this front affect all licensed pilots’ ability to fly.

Mark Larsen, NBAA director of safety and flight operations, said, “In conversations with our members about this, it’s very clear that folks are really struggling with these issues. They want to feel like they can get help and, and thankfully, we’re in a position to say you can get help and it’s likely not going to be career-ending.”

The NBAA points to progress over the last 12 months. Recently, the FAA has approved the antidepressant medication Wellbutrin as an agency-approved drug for pilots. Larsen said, “This is one that people are asking a lot of questions about on pilot forums, as they’re having good results with it. It’s progress, right? If we can do it safely, why would we keep these folks on the ground?” NBAA also noted the FAA said it would eliminate a requirement for pilots who are on approved antidepressants to undergo—and pay for—annual neurocognitive follow-up exams.

Larsen also pointed out that overreaching requirements placed on pilots with medical and mental health concerns can be counterproductive. He cited a Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine study last year, which found that more than 56 percent of pilots surveyed admitted to avoiding seeking health care for fear of losing flying privileges.

Dr. Quay Snyder, president, CEO and co-founder of Aviation Medicine Advisory Service, who serves on the NBAA Safety Committee, said FAA Federal Air Surgeon Dr. Susan Northrup “has demonstrated a full commitment to recognizing mental wellness as a critical element of aviation safety and optimizing performance.”

“Examples include the FAA hiring more psychiatrists and neuropsychologists on their HQ staff,” Snyder added, “to shorten the review times of medical certificate holders’ mental health conditions.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. The aeromedical division is slowly becoming more human. That’s good thing. By the way, I had to laugh at the 4 stripes on the shoulder. I never once wore a uniform to see my AME and I don’t remember any of my AMEs wearing a tie. Oh well, if that’s what it takes to get real, that’s what it takes.

  2. How about your AME being 50+ miles from your home and on the way to your airport? It was quite convenient.

  3. Maybe it’s time for the FAA to stop taking a guilty-until-proven-innocent approach that should really be accompanied by a Miranda warning. Their concept of medical certification appears to be based on someone’s 1950’s era conception of an ideal “normal” person fit for military aviation, and assumes any deviation from that idealized normal is automatically suspect regardless of whether it has any substantial impact on safety.

    Drop the requirement to get a third-class medical before using Basicmed. In fact, drop the medical requirement altogether for light airplanes. The FAA seems to think it’s heroically protecting the public from a rain of falling spam cans, but in reality things like stall/spin, stupid pilot tricks, VFR into IMC, etc beat out medical causes of accidents by a couple orders of magnitude. How much time, money, and manpower is wasted putting pilots through hoops over minor past medical conditions, childhood ADHD diagnoses, etc. when all they want to do is go out for the $100 hamburger, not fly families to see the mouse? Remember, all these folks denied third-class medicals over theoretical maybes are still out driving every day on the roads, with a whole lot more risk exposure. If the FAA was actually worried about making true safety improvements, they should be focusing on trying to address real causes of accidents, not the “maybe possibly theoretically potentially might could be” ones. Light Sport has been going on long enough to show that a driver’s license is good enough; that doesn’t suddenly change because someone is flying a slightly larger or faster airplane. Expand the Light Sport medical to cover common light aircraft.