by Bill Blank, M.D.
Published in Midwest Flyer – December 2019/January 2020 issue
“BasicMed” took effect on May 1, 2017, as an alternate way for pilots to fly without holding an FAA medical certificate, as long as they meet certain requirements. Since then, approximately 50,000 pilots have taken advantage of this alternate pathway to medical qualification.
The median age of pilots flying with BasicMed issuances is 65. The oldest pilot is 100. Sixty percent (60%) of the pilots are older than 80, and 98% are male. Eight percent (8%) of 3rd class medical holders are female. Twenty-eight percent (28%) of pilots with BasicMed have had a special issuance. As of September 13, 2018, pilots with BasicMed were involved in at least 179 aviation accidents. Thirty-four (34) of these accidents were fatal with 37 fatalities.
How many of these fatal accidents were due to medical issues is unknown. They are still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The legislation authorizing BasicMed requires the FAA Administrator to submit reports on BasicMed to Congress no later than 5 years after the enactment of the act. The current plan is to issue interim reports at the 3- and 4-year marks, as well as a formal 5-year report around July 2021. In talking with a highly placed FAA physician who is involved in all medically-related aircraft accidents, he feels that BasicMed is here to stay unless there is a major increase in accidents among this pilot population.
Since BasicMed started a little more than two years ago, I want to review certain dates pertaining to continued certification of pilots flying with BasicMed. Regular FAA medicals (1st, 2nd, 3rd class) expire at midnight on the last day of the month in which they were issued. The BasicMed doctor’s examination is different. It expires at midnight at the end of the exact date it was signed by the examining physician and is good for 4 years.
The interim medical education course has to be taken in 2 years. It can be taken anytime in the month in which the medical exam was performed. If you take it early, you will shorten the period of validity. If you take it late, you cannot fly until you have completed it and have gained nothing. The 4-year duration expires on the date of the medical exam.
It is important to understand that your BasicMed was not issued by the FAA Aeromedical Certification Division. That means the FAA cannot revoke it. BasicMed operates under the Flight Standards Service. If the FAA becomes aware of a serious medical condition which renders you unsafe to fly, since they cannot revoke your medical certificate, the Flight Standards Service will revoke your pilot certificate to prevent you from flying. To my knowledge, this has not happened yet, but I am sure it will.
Because the Department of Transportation failed to respond to the AOPA/EAA petition on BasicMed, it was passed with very little input from the Aeromedical Certification Division. Not surprising, from the FAA’s point of view, some special situations were not addressed in the law:
– Airmen reported as having a DUI (driving under the influence) violation within the last two (2) years on the National Driver’s Registry.
– Hotline complaints alleging airmen to have conditions that would make them ineligible for BasicMed.
– Airmen found to have falsified their most recent application for Airmen Medical Certification.
– State-licensed physician reports that he signed off on a BasicMed and then realizes that the airman did not reveal disqualifying medical conditions.
– Re-examination of an airman’s qualification for BasicMed if urgent and credible information is received, suggesting that they may have one of the conditions requiring evaluation by the FAA’s Special Issuance process.
Whether there is any likelihood that any of this will be addressed, I don’t know. For those of you holding BasicMed, I hope this information has been helpful. For those who don’t, hopefully it has been informative.
In the October/November 2019 issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine, there was an article by Federal Air Surgeon Michael A. Berry, M.D. about tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from a federal regulatory point of view. In my next column, I will address cannabidiol (CBD) – an active ingredient in cannabis, derived from the hemp plant that has become popular in the treatment of pain, insomnia, and anxiety.
Until then, happy flying!
EDITOR’S NOTE: William A. Blank is a physician in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and has been an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) since 1978, and a Senior AME since 1985.
Dr. Blank is a retired Ophthalmologist, but still gives some of the ophthalmology lectures at AME renewal seminars. Flying-wise, Dr. Blank holds an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate and has 5600 hours. He is a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII) and has given over 1200 hours of aerobatic instruction. In addition, Dr. Blank was an airshow performer through the 2014 season and held a Statement of Aerobatic Competency (SAC) since 1987.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of others and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations and FAA Aeronautical Information Manual for additional information and clarification