Getting more people into the air

OSHKOSH — The FAA’s medical certification staff has two main goals, Federal Air Surgeon Fred Tilton told a crowd today at AirVenture.

The first is to make sure that the airspace is safe. “Safety is our first commitment,” he said. “Our next goal is the make sure we get everybody that we can into the air.”

And while stories abound about people getting denied for medicals, effectively ending their chances of becoming a pilot, Tilton noted that just 1.21% of applications are denied.

He reported that in 2011 the medical certification division received 384,726 applications. Of those, 29,175 were for special issuances. In 2011, 4,667 applications were denied. Of that number, 4,313 were denied because the applicant failed to pursue the application further or provide asked-for information. The remaining 354 applicants went through the entire process, including an appeal to the Federal Air Surgeon, before receiving a final denial, Tilton reported.

He added that his office isn’t the final step in the appeals process. Pilots who care to fight can appeal to the National Transportation Safety Board. The cases are first heard by an administrative judge. If the pilot is turned down there, he or she can appeal to the entire NTSB board. Still not happy? Next step is the U.S. Court of Appeals, with the U.S. Supreme Court as the last step. He also noted that some pilots contact their Congressional representative or Senator to make their cases for a medical.

He noted that the Pilot’s Bill of Rights that’s on President Obama’s desk waiting his signature may change things. “But I don’t know how that’s going to affect the process,” he said.

Some other statistics Tilton shared with the crowd:

  • Four anti-depressants have been approved for use: Fluoxetin, Sertaline, Citalpram and Escritalopram;
  • Three people who have had heart transplants have been given special issuances, with another two going through the process right now;
  • 3,551 pilots with sleep apnea have been given special issuances; and
  • 450 people who are insulin-dependent diabetics have received special issuances.



  1. Gary says

    I am a victim of the Catch-22 for Sport Pilots (can’t fly LSA with a denied medical).
    I am hoping this “Medical Exemption” on the table with the FAA does not include any similar language.   I currently fly gliders and motorgliders without any problems.
    Why not a C-150/152 or a C-172?  They are readily available at my local airport!

  2. gbin says

    In a rational world, managing for safety means managing for risk – REAL risk, not whatever some fevered imagination can come up with.  The FAA’s decisions on who needs what kind of medical certification to fly and what kinds of medical conditions/treatments are justification for grounding a flier (or merely making it tough for him/her to fly) should be based on statistical analyses of data, not on foolish tradition or even more foolish public posturing around a declaration such as “Safety is our first commitment” as is now the case.  The current LSA medical certification exemption is giving them plenty of data to work with.  They should work with it!

  3. Rod says

    Yeah, he claims these statistics, but he doesn’t talk about the time and cost it takes to get a lot of these SI’s. He also doesn’t speak about the people that just don’t go for the medical and leave aviation because of the medical hassle. Typical bureaucratic hogwash.  

      • Mmjhst says

         15 years of SI cost me about 1 year of flying time and several thousand dollars worth of test that my board certified cardiologist claimed were unnecessary.  LSAs are too expensive so I am grounded or I say once more into the JAWS of the FAA.

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