A student pilot recently contacted me regarding the FAA’s denial of his application for a third-class medical certificate. Apparently the airman had been taking an anti-depressant medication that, according to the airman, he didn’t really need, but had been taking without adverse effect for a long period of time. When presented with Question 17(a) on FAA Form 8420-2 (medical/student pilot certificate), he disclosed this fact. Unfortunately, the anti-depressant medication was on the FAA’s list of medications that automatically disqualify an airman who is taking the medication from receiving a medical certificate. As a result, and much to the airman’s surprise, the FAA denied his application. Thus, his call to me.
At this point, the airman’s options are limited. First, he could appeal the denial. However, given that the anti-depressant medication is automatically disqualifying, a successful appeal is highly unlikely. Next, he could request that the FAA grant him a special issuance medical certificate, which is a medical certificate with conditions or restrictions the FAA feels is appropriate to ensure that the airman is safe to fly. The FAA has discretion to issue or deny a special issuance and, if the FAA denies a request for special issuance, that decision is not appealable. Under the circumstances, the likelihood of success for this option may be limited.
A final option would be for the airman to discontinue the anti-depressant medication and then re-apply for a medical certificate. Now, I don’t recommend that an airman discontinue a medication or course of treatment that he or she needs to stay healthy, regardless of whether it might allow the airman to obtain a medical. However, in this situation, if the airman truly does not need the anti-depressant medication, then replacing the medication with a non-disqualifying medication or simply discontinuing the medication may allow the airman to be issued a medical, whether unrestricted or special issuance, at some point in the future. Of course the FAA will still inquire as to the earlier denial and the airman’s mental health etc. when he re-applies, but at least the airman will not be automatically disqualified.
The moral of the story is that an airman should prepare for his or her medical applications before he or she arrives at the AME’s office. If the airman is suffering from a health condition or receiving medical treatment, he or she should research the issue to determine whether it will present a problem for obtaining a medical certificate. AOPA’s “Turbo Medical” can help identify these issues. Better to be forewarned, and thus, forearmed.
If the airman in this example had the information he has now prior to his application for a medical certificate, he might have been able to avoid his current situation and the limited options available to him. Of course hindsight is 20/20. Regardless, I wish the airman the best of luck in obtaining a medical certificate and pursuing his flight training.