Is your medical lost in the paperwork shuffle?

 - January 11, 2008, 9:16 AM

Suppose your aviation medical examiner (AME) gives you the little piece of paper that proclaims to the FAA that you are fit to fly, but the paperwork never reaches the agency’s Aeromedical Certification Branch in Oklahoma City. Are you legal? Are you liable? While certainly not routine, the situation has cropped up more often than one might think.

One FSDO safety program manager recently recounted an incident several years ago when a number of attendees at a safety seminar complained they were no longer receiving their monthly Aviation Safety Program Seminar announcements through the mail. These announcements go only to holders of a current FAA medical certificate.

Writing in FAA Aviation News, Robert Martens of the Windsor Locks, Conn. FSDO said a check of the FAA database revealed that the most recent medical information for those pilots had not reached Oklahoma City. All had been examined by the same AME, who had “resigned” as an AME.

In the early 1990s, he said, similar questions from pilots in southern Connecticut revealed that an FAA designated medical examiner was performing medical examinations and not passing along the files to Oklahoma City.

“The most ironic incident that I uncovered was the AME who asked me about the status of his examination, only to find that his examiner had not forwarded the file,” recalled Martens. “Subsequent follow-up on other pilots revealed the files were still ‘sitting’ in the medical examiner’s office, while the unsuspecting pilots were flying with no record of their examination on file with the FAA.” The doctor was stripped of his examiner privileges, but countless pilots were left in limbo as to the status of their medical certification.

Martens speculated that in the event of a fatal aircraft accident, the only valid copy of a medical may not be recoverable by accident investigators, and that in turn could affect insurance or liability claims.

Even though the incidents occurred in the 1990s, and the FAA has since converted to a new computerized system of filing medicals, another such incident cropped up recently when a Washington, D.C. pilot was applying for a security clearance to get out of Washington Executive/Hyde Field (W32), one of three Washington-area airports still under the most severe security restrictions.

When the FAA safety inspector checked his records, they showed that the pilot did not have a current medical, even though the inspector had seen it when the pilot came in to fill out the paperwork. In that case, the AME had moved to a new office shortly after the flight physical was completed, but in the confusion over the move the information was never transmitted to the FAA.

For several months the pilot had thought he was legal to fly, and it took another three weeks to locate the missing papers and have them forwarded to Oklahoma City.

The FAA told AIN that in cases where an AME failed to send medical examination information to Oklahoma City, it would go to the AME for the supporting documentation. “If that information exists and indicates that the airman is medically qualified, we would say the certificate is valid,” a spokeswoman said. The AME would get a warning, or depending on the circumstances, could lose his AME designation. The decision would be made on a case-to-case basis.

“If the information cannot be provided, we would require a reexamination,” she said. “So we would not say the certificate is invalid. We would try to get the information to support that it is valid.” The certificate would be revoked only if the airman refused to take another medical exam.

Pilots who are unsure about the status of their medicals can check on the Airman Inquiry Site at Martens also advised that pilots keep copies of their most recent medical and pilot certificates at home.