…Whether A Medical Matters Or Not…


The FAA in the past has dismissed studies of automobile statistics as irrelevant to aviation safety. “Automobile drivers are allowed to drive with a variety of mental and physical conditions that would be disqualifying for pilots,” the FAA said in a June 2003 report from the Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City. “Pilots are required to pass periodic physical examinations to obtain their medical certificates.” Flying without a medical so far has been restricted to balloons, gliders, and ultralights — aircraft with low speeds and simple systems that are considered inherently safe. Soon, pilots may also be able to fly Light-Sport Aircraft without an FAA medical, as long as they can qualify for a driver’s license. The CAMI report notes that “it is impossible to determine the extent to which driver health and the use of a variety of medications affect [automobile] accident rates. … [Pilots] are not allowed to use medications that are likely to influence their alertness, cognition, or coordination.” Even pilots who fly without a medical are required to self-certify themselves for every flight and stay on the ground if they are sick or taking medication that could impair their performance. EAA says it reviewed accident figures involving sailplanes, balloons, and ultralights and found that only one of more than 700 accidents could be traced to medical incapacitation. However, in aircraft where pilots are required to have a medical certificate, the number of accidents due to medical incapacitation was slightly higher (31-hundredths of one percent).