The Department of Transportation’s Inspector General testified this morning before the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Aviation regarding the issue of falsification of FAA airman medical certificate applications by disability recipients. The IG discussed efforts to mitigate the safety risks posed by airmen who falsify their Airman Medical Certificate applications to conceal disqualifying medical conditions including the FAA’s Airman Medical Certification Program itself and the IG’s joint investigation with Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, Operation Safe Pilot, that resulted in convictions of 43 airman who omitted disqualifying medical conditions from their medical applications even though they were receiving social security disability benefits for those same conditions.
The IG also feels that the FAA can take several actions to ensure that disabled pilots are not circumventing the medical certification process. These actions include developing a matching process with the social security administration and other Federal disability providers and revising the airman medical application to include questions regarding whether the applicant has ever received or submitted a claim for disability benefits from any provider. Apparently the FAA is currently pursuing both of these options.
The IG also recommended that the FAA: (1) conduct “an education and outreach effort to ensure pilots are fully aware of their responsibilities for accurately disclosing their medical histories on the Airman Medical Certificate application and discussing their histories with AMEs during periodic medical examinations;” and (2) offer a grace period to hold harmless any pilots who self-identify to the FAA previously undisclosed and potentially disqualifying medical conditions to provide an incentive for airman to come clean and avoid the fines and other penalties associated with making false statements on a medical application. (This is similar to the program offered in the late 1980s to identify previously undisclosed drug or alcohol-related convictions). However, it is important to note that after such a disclosure, the FAA would evaluate the disclosed condition, and, unless the airman was found to be medically fit to fly, his or her medical certificate would be subject to revocation.
This issue has been, and will continue to be, a hot issue for the FAA. As I predicted, it appears as though Operation Safe Pilot type investigations will continue and, indeed, will eventually become part of the certification process. If you would like to read the IG’s testimony in full, it is available here.