by Dr. John Beasley

We all want to avoid the dreaded “gotcha,” when it comes to aviation medical examinations, and I can assure you that those folks in Oklahoma City are not out to “do a gotcha” to you. Most of the “docs” there are active pilots and in love with aviation just like we are. In fact, they want us, as Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs), to help get you a medical certificate. Nonetheless, there are some things that can lead to certification gotchas – hassles, delays and perhaps denials. Here, in no particular order, are a few:

Gotcha #1. “Failure to Provide.” If the FAA asks for more information, give it to ’em. Recently, I had an applicant come in and I issued a certificate, but a month or so later, we got a letter from the “feds” reminding him that many years previously he had neglected to respond to a request for more information and they had issued a denial for “Failure to Provide Information.” My certification was then denied. The problem was eventually resolved (the original issue was trivial), but the pilot created some unnecessary bumps in the road.

Gotcha #2. Providing outdated information. The rule of thumb is that if additional information is required, it should be no more than 90 days old and occasionally has to be within the last 30 days. A while back, the feds asked for more information from an applicant and he sent them an x-ray from a year previous. It wound up being a lot of phone calls, hassles and another, more current, x-ray. None of us like hassles.

Gotcha #3. Losing your chance for Sport Pilot Certification. You all know that if you have ever been denied a medical certificate or had a Authorization of Special Issuance revoked, then you cannot fly under Sport Pilot rules. So do not, if you can possibly avoid it, get in a situation where certification will be denied. The best way to avoid that risk, if there are any “iffy” issues, is to talk with your AME before starting the actual application to minimize the chance of a denial.

This leads directly to Gotcha #4 – not checking ahead about an issue.

Recently an applicant came to me for certification with all the stuff filed online, and after I downloaded it, said, “I’m going to have surgery for prostate cancer next week.” Yikes!

I had no choice but to defer as the exam was already sitting in front of me. The FAA then denied him. Now I can almost certainly get him a certificate through the Special Issuance process once surgery has been completed, but I would have preferred if he called me ahead of time, so we could put the whole thing off until after the surgery and saved him some money, and me, time. Wait for the dust to settle if a big issue such as cancer surgery is in play.

So when does the application process really start? This is important since if the application process has started, we cannot stop it.

A year or so ago an applicant called and asked an excellent question: “If I enter information into FAA MedXPress, does the FAA have it then?” Well, not quite. If you don’t complete and sign the MedXpress on line, your entered information gets deleted in 30 days. Of course, you can re-enter it later. Once you sign it, it’s in the system, but only for 60 days. So if you show up at your doc’s office on day 61, it won’t be in the system anymore.

The application process is not officially started until you give your AME the magic confirmation number AND he or she enters that number into the FAA system to see what you entered (the form you printed and brought in with you doesn’t start the process). The process starts once your AME downloads it…that’s the electronic equivalent of signing the old paper form in your doc’s office.

Now all this said, if there are questions about the impact of something on your medical certification – maybe your blood sugar or blood pressure is up a bit – make a separate appointment with your AME and talk about it before the process starts. Let’s try to avoid the gotchas.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Effective October 1, 2012, all applicants for airmen medical certification are required to complete FAA Form 8500-8 online. The online application process called “MedXPress” is then transmitted to the FAA and is then available for the applicant’s AME to review at the time of the medical examination. After completing the application, the airman receives a “control number,” which is needed for the AME to download the application at his office. Interestingly, MedXPress is not yet available to FAA Air Traffic Control Specialists, who are likewise required to get an FAA medical examination on a periodic basis. For additional information, refer to

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