I was taking a medication that was on the list of meds the FAA does not allow pilots to take, so I knew that getting my FAA medical certificate was going to be difficult. The medications I was prescribed helped me, and I could go about my days without thinking too much about my condition. But there were alternative remedies and I was prepared to switch so that I could become a licensed airman. Several airline pilots I knew through my previous job as a flight attendant had told me not to worry about it. They said it wasn’t “going to be a big deal” to show the FAA I had stopped using the problematic meds, and I believed them. I began my flight training in earnest without my medical. Six months later, I was nearly ready for my checkride but I still hadn’t soloed because my medical was still hung up in administrative limbo. Here’s how you can learn from what happened to me.
Because of my circumstance, my instructor recommended that I call the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Pilot Information Center to find out exactly what I needed to do to obtain my FAA medical. AOPA advised me to contact the original physician that made the diagnosis and gather up all the paperwork they had related to it. Once I had those materials, I could submit those to the FAA for review. Sounded simple enough. I followed their recommendations and sent the FAA everything in late January, about a month after I started flying. I was making good progress in my flight training and was getting ready to solo only a few weeks into February!
A month went by, and I was ready, but I had not yet heard back from the FAA. Then two months, and I was getting frustrated. Finally, in late March the FAA emailed and advised me that they needed documentation from a more recent exam before they could continue evaluating my eligibility. I immediately found doctors that could take me in right away. I was signed up for a variety of tests which all took time to schedule and complete. It was another month before I was able to send in the new documents for review.
It was now late April. I had been ready to solo for months. I continued flying knowing my goal wasn’t just to solo or be aprivate pilot. The hours I was accruing would all count toward the 250 I needed for my commercial license Part 61 experience requirements, but it was excruciating to know that I could be flying by myself but couldn’t because I lacked this one piece of paper. I called the FAA headquarters in Oklahoma twice a week, every week, to see if I was approved.
Finally, on June 28th – six months after I sent in my paperwork — I received word from the FAA that my medical application was approved, and I would be issued my medical certificate. They faxed the certificate to a local Aviation Medical Examiner’s office so I could pick it up and finally have it in my hand, as required to fly an airplane by myself.
The very next day, I soloed an airplane for the first time. My instructor, Scott McCoy, and I were near to tears on the ramp when I landed. It had been almost 7 months since my first flight.
Learn from me. If you think there is something in your medical history that may be of concern to the FAA, do your homework ahead of time. Even if you or someone you trust thinks it will be easy, you never know for sure until you have the certificate in your hand.
Call the AOPA Pilot Information Center and get ready to take notes. They will provide you with step by step guidance.
Make sure you have thorough and recent medical documentation before you submit your application to the FAA. If you have any questions or concerns, see an AME just for consultation before filing your MedExpress paperwork.
Find out if there are alternative medications you can take that are allowed by the FAA.
Do this all as soon as you decide you want to fly.
After all of this, it was determined that I didn’t have one of the conditions that I was originally diagnosed with 13 years prior. Knowing that this could have all been prevented is maddening to say the least, but at least I know I can continue with my flying career knowing that I’ve already cleared one of the biggest hurdles I will ever have to face.