QUESTION: Is the new BasicMed Aviation Medical Certificate right for you? It’s new since May 1st, 2017 and a bit radical for the FAA that I am used to, but there have been about 15,000 BasicMed Certificates issued to date. I’m an early adopter for many things and an “older” (don’t tell anyone) reasonably high time active pilot. So even though I’m certain I could pass my usual 3rd Class Aviation Medical due this month, I was curious and decided it was time to try this out—to see if it was right for me.
Bottom Line: I got an appointment with my GP, took the AOPA on-line course and test, then got my “athletics OK?” exam from a local doctor, and PASSED. Along the way, I got some insights that I’ll mention in this article.
Key Questions: (1) Who should consider a BasicMed Certificate, (2) How to pick a Doctor, and (3) How to Proceed.
First: (1) Who should consider BasicMed? There are some pros and cons:
- If you haven’t failed a regular Aviation Medical within the past ten years (even if it’s out of date now and even if you have resolved a problem with a Special Issuance medical from the FAA), you can do BasicMed. Many previous “flags” for an AME (Airman Medical Examiner) physical don’t count in BasicMed if your condition is CONTROLLED (for example high BP and diabetes).
- The FAA recognizes that you self-diagnose your ability to fly every time you act as PIC. In this program, you are urged to learn about and know conditions (and some meds) that could make you unsafe. You are expected to talk with your doctor about your conditions, get them under control, and make SAFE decisions about flying.
- You can’t “fail”. You can take the on-line course and test again until you pass! If your doctor won’t sign the physical exam form, you can see another doctor. You may find things out about yourself that you didn’t know before, and if two or three doctors find the same thing, you probably should pay attention and do something about it first.
- There are only three things that will get you referred to an AME and the FAA for a Special Issuance medical…a serious unresolved Cardiovascular, Neurological, and/or Mental Health condition. After Special Issuance and continued good health, BasicMed can apply.
Cons: (know the rules…)
- You still need an FAA medical from an AME If you fly for HIRE or if you are a student pilot and haven’t yet had an FAA Medical. BasicMed is valid for a specific subset of GA flying, briefly: aircraft less than 6000 lbs, 6 seats or less (5 pax or less), flying at 250 kts or less, in US airspace below 18,000 MSL.
- However, BasicMed is allowed for charitable flights (ie: Angel Flights), shared cost flights, certain business flights with no passengers, and IFR or VFR. No distinction made for class or category of aircraft (piston, jet, helicopter) or license (CFI etc).
- Efforts are underway to get Canada and other surrounding countries to recognize BasicMed as well. Check with AOPA or other sources before flight internationally In general you can always continue to see your AME! However if you meet the restrictions above, you might want to consider BasicMed if you hold a Special Issuance license and don’t want to go through the hassle of renewing it through the FAA each period. Also, perhaps you are an older pilot and are beginning to question whether you will trigger a “flag” on the official FAA Medical application you’ve always had to fill out (once filed you can’t take it back!) and risk the AME not issuing you a Medical, but sending your paperwork to the FAA Oklahoma Office for further action. Perhaps you should consider BasicMed.
- First, you can’t “fail” BasicMed. Your paperwork stays with you in your logbook. Details aren’t sent to the FAA.
- Second, you will become familiar with factors that YOU SHOULD KNOW in order to decide if you really are safe for a given flight. The AOPA on-line course is excellent. It makes you aware of things your AME knows and looks for and may not have taken the time to tell you about (like what will “flag” his attention and why).
- You will find out it isn’t the specific medicine you are taking or doctor you are seeing that counts (you MUST record these accurately, however with BasicMed you don’t have to send these details to the FAA). It’s the underlying CONDITION you are addressing that counts. The med or treatment may point to something unsafe that needs further investigation. If you and your doctor can handle the condition so you can be healthy and fly safely, that’s the end of it (except for the three serious conditions listed earlier…those need a Special Issuance when diagnosed for you to continue to fly).
- Finally, certain meds have serious side effects that can adversely affect flying! You need to know what they are, what effects they can cause, and how long to wait after taking those meds before flying. The on-line course will tell you what you need to know. Your doctor will discuss his health findings with you after your physical. There may be issues you should know about but most likely won’t stop you from being approved for BasicMed. My insurance agent said BasicMed is fine because it’s FAA approved.
Next: (2) Picking a doctor
I visit many specialty doctors for various conditions (eyes – Cataract surgery fixed them, knees – watching my arthritis, colon – check every five years, EGD – check every three years, etc…we don’t need to list them all). These doctors aren’t good candidates for BasicMed exam. Are you an existing patient somewhere? Check with your GP even if you haven’t seen him (or her) in a while. They regularly give “athletic OK?” exams to approve golfing, sports, climbing activities, etc. for folks of all ages.
My doctor at Banner Health Clinic in Loveland was not familiar with BasicMed but the first page on the handout quickly filled him in (he’s a fast reader)! We talked for about an hour as he followed his “checkup” list. Then as the nurse was administering the eye check, he read the rest of the form and covered one or two other items left on the BasicMed list. I may follow up with him on two minor items…may need hearing aid in left ear some day, but that’s easily handled with my aviation headset, and he mentioned a new generic medication now available for a med I have been avoiding up until now–may be helpful during long flights.
At the end of our discussion he checked the required box and signed the form. The cost was higher than my usual 3rd Class medical, but the BasicMed physical is good for four years instead of two. I was surprised to hear that many doctors are limiting new patients because good doctors are leaving the profession. Also, check if your insurance covers the cost of this exam. Some do, many don’t.
Finally (3) How to proceed: http://www.faa.gov/go/basicmed
- Create a BasicMed Login and Password (existing AOPA and FAA accounts won’t work).
- Take and pass the on-line course. Spend some time at this…there are several extra links at the BOTTOM of the pages that may apply to you. These are not on the quiz, but you will want to read them if they apply (they are short). Excellent information.
- Push NEXT at the right side of the page to advance through ALL the course steps. Take the test at the end of the course. You can start over again if you’d like but I just swallowed hard at my dumb mistake…I confused CO with CO2 by working too fast!
- Fill out your part of the form completely. Use a copy of a past airman’s medical for reference—enter meds and doctor visits as requested.
- You need to have your physical exam before you can obtain your Completion Certificate, but you can easily log out, log back in, and pick up right where you left off.
- Print out a set of instructions and forms for you and your doctor. Leave a copy with him. https://basicmedicalcourse.aopa.org/pub/bundles/course_61001/downloads/AOPABasicMed_Physicians_Guide.pdf
- After he has examined you, he will fill out his form and sign it in front of you.
- Back on-line, Request your BasicMed Certificate. Print and carry it and the doctor’s signed form, with your logbook. Don’t do anything that would require the NTSB or FAA to request to see it!
- Then Go Fly, but skip one or two hamburger runs next year to pay for the exam…better for your health anyway.
Postscript: There is an excellent summary of several studies that attempt to relate aging and piloting capability. Most were done in conjunction with the age 60 rule in the airlines. Despite dancing around the subject a bit, two conclusions emerged…
- We are all aging! Our skills will degrade over time, and we will eventually die! (Surprise)
- Our “capability age” and our “birthday age” will differ for each individual (depends on a lot of things!). However, flying capability at any age can be prolonged with EXPERIENCE and FREQUENT FLYING. So…don’t get rusty! And keep having birthdays!