Aeromedical Report: Frequently Asked Questions

Air Line Pilot, Jan. 2001, p.5
By Dr. Keith Martin, ALPA Associate Aeromedical Advisor

I just received a letter from the FAA notifying me of a "slight variance or technical discrepancy" on my EKG. The FAA is now requesting additional information. How should I proceed?

Because EKGs (ECGs) are transmitted to the FAA electronically, "technical discrepancies" can often occur. The EKG may indicate a so-called "normal variant" without your having heart disease. Often having your aeromedical examiner repeat the EKG will clear up this discrepancy. On occasion, additional evaluation will be needed. Unless specifically stated otherwise, your medical certificate is still valid while you are having the EKG or other evaluations performed.

My doctor suggested I would benefit from treating my increased cholesterol level. What is the current FAA policy?

Although an increased blood cholesterol level is not disqualifying, many diseases may occur secondary to a person’s having this condition for a long time. The FAA allows most medications that are currently prescribed for treating high blood cholesterol levels. When starting medication, you should "ground test" for at least 48 hours to be sure you have no adverse reactions. You may then continue to fly on your current FAA medical certificate and report the medication use at the time of your next FAA exam.

Is multiple sclerosis medically disqualifying for flight duty?

Multiple sclerosis is a slowly progressive central nervous system disease, resulting in multiple and varied neurologic symptoms and signs, usually with remissions and exacerbations. The FAA does allow some airmen to continue to fly with this diagnosis. In certain situations, the FAA also allows airmen to use certain medications to control mild symptoms. The FAA must review and qualify each individual case before the airman may return to flight duty.

I have been on sick leave following elective surgery. My FAA airman medical certificate for first-class certification expires at the end of this month. I will not, however, be ready to return to work before it expires. Must I notify the FAA or my aeromedical examiner?

No. If your FAA airman medical certificate expires during the time you are on extended sick leave, you simply re-apply for a new FAA airman medical certificate after your treating physician has released you to return to unrestricted activity. If you are otherwise qualified, your FAA examiner should issue a new medical certificate at that time.

I was recently hospitalized, but my physician has released me back to work. Should I report this before returning to flight duty?

Provided you have a current FAA airman medical certificate, you need not necessarily report being hospitalized, per se, to the FAA. You may, however, have to report the reason for hospitalization before returning to flight duty. Unless your treating physician is familiar with the FAA regulations regarding airman medical certification, do not assume that you are ready to return to the cockpit. Always check with your AME or contact the ALPA Aeromedical Office before returning to work following hospitalization.

My ophthalmologist, who recently noted a slight increase in my intraocular pressure, said that this was a sign of early glaucoma, which may require treatment in the future. What is the FAA’s current policy regarding flying with the diagnosis of glaucoma?

Pilots medically treated for increased intraocular pressure are usually not medically disqualified. Continued medical certification depends primarily on the status of the ophthalmologic condition. The FAA generally certifies airmen whose intraocular pressure can be controlled while maintaining required visual acuity and normal fields of vision for all classes. Once treatment begins, the pilot must provide the FAA with evaluation and treatment information. FAA Form 8500-14 (Ophthalmologic Evaluation for Glaucoma) must be completed and forwarded to Oklahoma City. The FAA will require periodic follow-up, which can be provided during the airman’s routine FAA physical examination.

What is the FAA current policy on donating bone marrow?

The FAA does not restrict airmen from serving as bone marrow donors. Provided no medical complications arise from the surgery, the donor may return to cockpit duty once released by the treating physician. If the donor was a professional pilot and was given narcotics during or after the surgery, he or she should wait for 3 days after the last dose to avoid the possibility of testing positive on an FAA-mandated drug test. The bone marrow donor surgery should be properly reported on the airman’s next application for an FAA airman medical certificate.

What is the FAA’s medical policy regarding a pilot serving as a live organ donor?

Donating an organ such as a kidney, part of a liver, or bone marrow obviously involves surgery. Donors should not exercise the privileges of their aeromedical certificate until completely healed from the surgery and their physician releases them to return to unlimited duty. Once released, pilots may return to full flight duty as long as they hold a current FAA airman medical certificate. They should report the surgery the next time they apply for an FAA airman medical certificate.

The services of the ALPA Aeromedical Office are available to all ALPA members free of charge and with full confidentiality. Our office hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Time, Monday–Friday. Call us at 303-341-4435.

W. Keith Martin, M.D., M.P.H., is an associate aeromedical advisor with ALPA’s Aeromedical Office, which is located in Aurora, Colo.