Good for the heart

There’s good news for pilots with heart conditions.

The FAA recently announced that aviation medical examiners (AMEs) will be able to renew third class medical certificates issued under authorizations for nine heart conditions — myocardial infarction, angina pectoris, coronary artery bypass, angioplasty, stent placement, tissue and mechanical valves replacements, atherectomy (removing plaque from an artery), brachytherapy (reopening an occluded angioplasty), and the Ross procedure (specialized heart valve surgery).

Here’s how it works: The initial authorization after a cardiovascular event comes from the FAA. But once you receive that six-year authorization, you just need to bring the required information to your AME and he will review it.

If you’ve done your homework and brought in all the requested tests — and they have good results — the AME can give you the medical with another one year time limit. The AME then sends the information to the FAA. The same will be done yearly for the six years.

This should greatly reduce the backlog in Oklahoma City. It will take some time to get the program up and running, so if your special issuance renewal falls within the first six months of this year, you may still have to send your documentation to the FAA to receive a letter of authorization.

If this is the first time you will be reporting a heart condition that is disqualifying, you will need to provide complete medical documentation to the FAA before you have a physical exam. After the FAA reviews the medical records and clears your case, you will receive a letter authorizing your AME to conduct a physical examination and issue a medical certificate if you are found qualified.


Q: I’m on a special issuance due to a stent I had two years ago. Each year I have problems getting my cardiologist and family doctor to get the reports together. Do you have advice to make it easier?
A: First plan your test at the time the FAA has told you or 30 to 60 days before your expiration date. See your doctor after a 12-hour fast. Drink a lot of water to ensure you are well hydrated. It makes it easier to draw the blood sample (Chem 14 and Lipids for fats). You also need a treadmill EKG. Always try to do a 100% Bruce. A current status report should cover all the above results. No ischemia is tolerated. The FAA likes good changes in modifiable risk factors. Smoking, weight loss, exercise and stress test results look best when they state no change from the previous year.

Q: I take Ambien every night to help me sleep. It does a good job and I’m not tired during the day. Is that okay with the FAA?
A: No, you can’t take Ambien nightly. While it is my choice for an occasional insomnia problem, it’s a gray area. You should take less than five pills a month. Insomnia needs a full workup.

Q: I’d like to solo on my 16th birthday, but it is on a Sunday. How do I get the proper card on Sunday when most aviation doctor offices are closed?
A: I’m sorry to say that most AMEs don’t know the proper way to get your request done. The best way is to see your AME 30 days before your birthday. He should give you a yellow student pilot card with eye limitations if you have corrective lenses. Also, the card should say “not valid for student pilot privileges” until the date of your birthday.

Dr. Guy Baldwin is a Senior Aviation Medical Examiner in Tulsa, Okla. A member of the EAA Aeromedical Council, he has more than 4,000 hours. He owns several planes, including an Extra 300, which he flies in airshows and aerobatic contests. He can be reached at 918-437-7993 or

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