Recoveries:As with flying, preparation is the key to regaining medical after surgery

From mid-November of last year until mid-February of this year, I was at “non-flying” status while recovering from surgery to repair a rotator cuff tear. I used the time as effectively as I could. I put my Cardinal RG in for an extensive annual inspection, leaving my mechanic with a long list of items to check and attack now, while they weren’t problems. With the airframe having just turned 3,000 hours, I wanted to have a “hit list” of favorite items looked at in greater detail. Now that the plane is fully refurbished, I feel it’s time to start going back through it again during regularly scheduled maintenance to double check additional items which, although not a problem now, are known to give problems.

During my down time, I also had ample opportunity to consider the FARs regarding being medically fit to fly. We are obligated to ground ourselves anytime we know, or have reason to know, of a medical condition that would make us unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate necessary for our particular pilot operation. Well, that was a no-brainer for me. I couldn’t use my right arm and I would have been crazy (and illegal) to try to fly my plane while recovering. Nor could I perform any of my duties as an EMS helicopter pilot. Duh!

So, I did my physical therapy to get my arm working again, and then the route to getting back to flying became a dual one. My doctor would not let me return to work at the hospital until a specific date because of the nature of my job. But a couple of week’s prior, he did say it would be OK for me to get back into the RG for some personal flying.

Now the conundrum. My medical, which was a first class taken in January 2001, was still valid for all the flying I would do in the RG. FAR part 61.53 pretty much says we are self-certifying during the valid period of our medical certificate. AOPA shared my opinion that, since the medical was still valid by date, and I grounded myself when I knew it was appropriate, and my doctor now said it was OK to fly again, I could “unground” myself. So I did. However, I covered my bases by having my doctor record a report noting his approval for me to return to personal flying. I also went to my local FBO and took a recurrency training flight. The fact that the instructor pilot was also an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t necessary.

My return to EMS flying was a bit different. To fly commercially, we must have passed at least a second class medical exam during the prior 12 months. The company I fly for requires it to be a first class every 12 months. Regardless, my time had expired, so I went for my exam armed with a report of my surgery, a hospital discharge record, and a letter from my doctor briefly describing the whole event and his approval for me to return to flying. (Note: this also would have been required whenever I showed up for my next medical, regardless of class.) My EMS employer also required a special return to work report from my doctor, releasing me for duty; my fresh flight medical exam; and a recurrency training flight to get me back up to speed. Finally, all systems were “go” and I was back in the air on all counts.

Since my return to personal flying, I have put in a considerable amount of time traveling around most of the southeastern U.S. Visiting FBOs, I have made a specific point to ask how business is doing since the 9/11 attacks. Obviously, my poll is random, based on my specific destinations, and completely non-scientific. But it was still important to me at least to take the pulse of the operators I visited.

Starting at my own base, Rowan County Airport (RUQ) in Salisbury, N.C., much improved activity was reported. The flight school is buzzing and the aircraft sales staff is busy selling airplanes. I knew business was really slow at the end of last year, and I was worried the salesman there might not have a job when I returned. It was a great feeling to see him not only there, but bubbling with excitement at how his new and used aircraft deals were going.

Last November, I flew to Louisiana on business. ATC was quiet on a perfect VFR day. I went back to the same place in February and ATC was buzzing with GA airplanes. The FBOs reported much improved fuel sales since the beginning of the year. A staff member at an FBO in Florida that I visit regularly, Sun Air in Leesburg, told me that business was not only good, it was better than pre-9/11.

The two wholesale companies distributing the video I produced on buying used aircraft have been ordering more copies this first quarter than they did the entire last half of last year. The West Coast distributor said he is surprised at how the videos are moving again, all of a sudden. He thought the economy was still down and the recovery from 9/11 still distant. My reply was that maybe the newly increased hassles of airline travel are stirring a renewed interest in the grass-roots segment of GA travel.

I recognize that there are still locations, as well as certain segments of our industry, where recovery has yet to be seen. But it sure has been nice to see it in the areas I have recently visited.

Guy R. Maher is a business owner and aircraft appraiser with more than 12,000 hours in general aviation airplanes and helicopters. He is an independent buyer’s agent and flight instructor for type specific initial and recurrent training. He can be contacted through the above e-mail address, or by calling 704-287-3475.

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