We have read and heard in recent weeks of incidents in the cockpit of airplanes that created serious problems. One incident involved an in-flight fatal heart attack by a general aviation pilot. Another dealt with disturbing behavior by a commercial airline pilot. These separate incidents have helped to spotlight the potential danger that can arise due to pilot medical problems during the flight of an airplane. It’s something that few of us, as passengers on commercial or even on private flights, even think about when we board our airplane.
But statistics suggest that there may be many pilots now flying who have undisclosed medical issues that could lead to in-flight problems. According to a Federal Aviation Administration report, hundreds of fatal accidents have been documented in which pilots failed to disclose potentially disqualifying medical conditions on their Airmen Medical Certificate Applications. In one study, FAA researchers found toxicology evidence of serious but undisclosed medical conditions in nearly ten percent of all pilots involved in fatal accidents during a ten-year period. With approximately 650,000 foreign and domestic pilots holding FAA Airmen Medical Certificates, if an average of ten percent don’t disclose medical conditions, up to 65,000 pilots could have undisclosed medical issues. That presents the potential for serious problems for passengers on board an airplane with one of those pilots in the cockpit.
In a separate undertaking, the United States Department of Transportation investigated 40,000 airmen and found that eight percent failed to disclose medical conditions for which they were receiving disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. The FAA does require pilots to possess a valid pilot certificate, to have a valid airmen medical certificate, and to periodically renew their medical certificate depending upon the type of airmen privileges they exercise. But during the period between medical exams, monitoring is generally limited to self-reporting by the pilots themselves.
Passengers on an airplane can be put in jeopardy when a person who had health or medical problems is the pilot. Airline companies and their insurers also are exposed to significant liability in the event of an accident that is caused by such a pilot. Some observers want stricter medical reporting requirements, but the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the Experimental Aircraft Association recently filed a petition with the FAA, in an effort to relax the standards for medical oversight for recreational pilots, placing exclusive reliance on pilot self-reporting. The petition seeks to exempt recreational pilots from the medical certification process, and has the potential to introduce an entirely new group of pilots into the population who might not otherwise be able to meet the medical standards necessary to become a pilot.
Source: Claims Journal
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