A Very Real Flying Medical Issue

During his forum talk at Oshkosh NTSB Board Member Dr. Earl Weener said that he had formed no specific position on possible changes in third class medical certification policy. The reason, he said, is because the NTSB has never conducted a study on the effectiveness of the medical certification procedures.

Dr. Weener did note that sudden incapacitation of a pilot in flight is quite rare. But something the Board is seeing more and more frequently during investigations of fatal accidents is the presence of over-the-counter medications in a pilot’s remains.

As we all know, many frequently used medications carry warnings that they can cause drowsiness, or interfere with the ability to concentrate. The warning usually advises against driving or operating machinery while taking the medication.

This type of warning is so prevalent that most of us don’t pay any attention. Just about every treatment for colds, or sneezes, or allergies, or even aches and pains carries a similar warning. I know I sure don’t lock away the car keys and stay home after swallowing a pill in the hopes of stopping a runny nose or other symptoms of a cold. I have often flown trips after taking medicine carrying such warnings.

What is frustrating investigators is that they can’t know for sure how the presence of totally legal and common medications in a pilot’s body contribute to the cause of an accident. The FAA restricts or permits specific prescription medications but as far as I know doesn’t take the same stance on over-the-counter medicines. How a particular non-prescription medicine will affect our flying is left up to us.

What age is teaching me is that behavior that was not an issue for my flying 30 years ago might be a very important factor now. For example, years ago I would fly for hours at the legal limits of altitude where supplemental oxygen is required and think nothing of it. I stretched the 30 minutes allowed above 12,500 feet without oxygen more than once and wondered what’s the big deal. I didn’t feel or perform any differently.

But now that I have crossed the threshold into official senior status I begin to notice the lack of air at 10,000 feet. And when occasional traffic or terrain forces me up to 12,000 feet I know it’s an altitude that I can’t tolerate for long.

I know that it must be the same for everyday over-the-counter medications. I ignored the warnings and kept on flying for years. But can I still do that? Will the same medicines have a different affect than decades ago? I don’t know.

The point that Dr. Weener and I are trying to make is that we are demanding the right to assess our physical fitness to fly without a third class medical system. In reality we already do that before every flight. And not all of us are making the safe decisions. Too many pilots are ignoring warnings on medications and are ending up dead in a crash. Did the side effects of the non-prescription medicine contribute to the cause of the accident?

Nobody has the answer yet. But if we continue to ignore the most basic fitness to fly alerts and takeoff after downing a drug that warns against driving and operating machinery we are undermining our claim that we safely manage and enforce our own medical standards. Of course, a third class medical certificate in no way changes the way we use over-the-counter medicines. But ignoring warnings on drugs erodes our claim that we already manage our personal medical fitness to fly. Pilots keep ending up dead with drugs that warn against driving–much less flying–in their systems, and that doesn’t sound responsible to me, and certainly not to the non-flying public.

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45 Responses to A Very Real Flying Medical Issue

  1. Timothy Spear says:

    Trying to link the third class medical and over the counter medications is a stretch at best and I think a case of reductio ad absurdum. A third class medical is a simple snapshot in time, your health like the airplane engine may run just fine today and seize up tomorrow.

    As a result, if the FAA really wants to prevent medical issues from being a factor in accidents, we need to mandate implanted health monitoring systems (like an engine monitor) that reports all aspects of health in a wireless real time manor to a central FAA medical monitoring station. This should take care of the perceived medical problems.

    Second major point, in the USA we normally have the concept of innocent till proven guilty and a freedom to be stupid and take risks. They way this should apply to any government action is the concept of a problem must be proven and the requisite regulation is the minimal action required to address the problem which places the minimal burden on the individual and on society.

    The FAA has never even proven any medical problems, or even how age is an issue for older pilots which mandates an across the board 67 retirement age (I did not trust my father in law to drive a golf cart when he turned 65, but I have an adopted uncle at 79 who still rides ATVs on rather extreme trails and is a better driver then most of the young whipper snappers). As a result, the FAA needs to change its fundamental thinking from a study to see the possible effects of OTC medications and the 3rd class medical to just eliminate them totally. Once eliminated, if there is a safety issue of planes falling out of the sky, and the crashing plane kills innocents, then the FAA may act.

    Tim

    • Mac says:

      Hi Tim,
      The concern isn’t coming from the FAA but the NTSB. And the data dump, if you wish, is coming from the bodies of dead pilots. They lost control and crashed and OTC drugs were in their systems. Did the side effects of the drugs cause, or contribute to the cause of their loss of control? They are not here to tell us. So what we have is an association. Is the association of an increasing number of dead pilots with OTC drugs in their system also a cause? It will take time to try to find out.
      Mac Mc

      • Timothy Spear says:

        Mac,

        If the NTSB and the FAA want to study OTC, that is fine. It is not related in anyway to the medical certificate. This is just a case of either protecting a fiefdom or typical attitude where everyone can say no, and no one can say yes.

        Tim

      • W. Arthur, MD, PhD says:

        Here’s the problem with the data: There is no control data. No one tests non-commercial operators for drugs on any basis, unless and until there is an incident that gets the attention of the NTSB.

        Therefore, absolutely no conclusion can be drawn for an unsupported comment of an agency official which has a vested interest in the status quo (observer bias, cohort bias). To obtain this data, one would have to sample all pilots randomly who hold any class medical. That would take a properly designed medical clinical study protocol with institutional review board, informed consent and likely some form of total immunity to induce pilots to agree to join the study. This will not likely ever happen.

        Meanwhile, one simply cannot ignore the LSA experience, which is, in fact, clear data. One cohort, pilots with Class III medicals flying similar aircraft, and those flying LSA, gliders and balloons without seeming to have similar medical related flight issues (virtually none) insofar as the available data can be compared.

        Be very careful of serendipitous correlations of data. Be even more careful with hyperbole: “the data dump. . .is coming from the bodies of dead pilots. . .” It is not persuasive and is emotional and inflammatory. You have absolutely no data on the bodies of living pilots who flew and did not crash and until you do, you have no reasonable basis to draw any conclusion. You have even less basis when you do not know how the toxicology screens have changed over time, as they no doubt have.

  2. Larry S says:

    Being a card carrying member of the same Senior “Club,” I can’t say as I disagree with you in principal, Mac. That said — and as Tim said — at what point do you stop trying to come up with nonsensical solutions for problems that don’t exist? Most “older” pilots are also WISER pilots … that’s how they got to be older pilots … remember? Why are we trying to solve the problems that only a very small subset of aviators cause by punishing the lot? Unless and until the NTSB or the FAA or the who knows what Governmental Agency makes a connection with OTC meds and accidents, it’s a NON-ISSUE!

    And, if OTC meds are such an issue, then we better not be driving, either … but we know we do.

    As far as I am concerned, flying an airplane is EASIER than driving a car once you master it.

    You’re now saying that “not all of us (pilots) are making the wise decisions.” OK … how’re you gonna solve that? By keeping the third class medical. Give us a break, Mac. If you said that taking an annual one-hour course on a subject the FAA thought was important … like ‘cockpit decision making’ … would replace the third-class, I could buy into it. Until then, this isn’t an issue.

    It’s time for the EAA, et al, to stop trying to dissect every minute issue on the third class medical and warm up the legal team, instead. I’ll bet most pilots would be willing to send in a “Benjamin” to sue the FAA, the AMA, et al, on this subject? ALL pilots are — generally — getting older … we’re the only ones left with the moolah and certificates. It’s time to save what little is left of the dwindling population called … AVIATORS.

    Now then, I gotta go … it’s time for a data dump of my health monitoring system into the great FAA computer in the “sky” … pun intended. I think I took an aspirin last week and a vitamin this morning … heavens !! Thanks, Tim.

  3. Sherwin Harris says:

    Just Bulls–t conjecture. It is irrelevant the impact of over the counter medication use on flight safety in concluding the value of continuing the worthless 3rd class medical.
    If they were a factor, which is doubtful, that issue can be resolved by a public awareness and education program included in the petition presented to and ignored to date by the
    FAA. Congress must act. Its clear these bureaucrats will do and say anything to protect
    their fiefdoms. It is somewhat irresponsible of the media to report this crap without question.

    • Steve says:

      Sherwin

      You are right on the Mark! All these people care about is their portion of allocated funds. This is a big joke being played out on us. Is Mac a part of the solution or part of the problem? Why are we getting in to this? Why is it that they can’t make a ruling in favor of the pilot community? This is a NO BRAINER…………We’re not happy till you’re not happy the ole FAA truism .

      Steve

  4. Jim Butler says:

    Mac, what about the underlying problem that the pilot was trying to address when he/she took the medication? Didn’t that too contribute to the crash? I know when I have a cold or other ailment, I simply am not as mentally sharp. A pilot could crash without the over-the-counter drugs in his system, but still be somewhat incapacitated by an ailment. Once again we are back to pilots self certifying, just as they are now, and you can’t legislate good judgment. The third class medical does nothing to enhance safety.

    Now, Timothy Spear would you please stop giving the government ideas!!! lol

  5. TedK says:

    Perhaps it is my upbring at the hands of my Father’s squadron Flight Surgeons (I’m thinking of you, Doc Dully) and then career as a navy flyer, but I was always taught if you needed to take something stronger than an aspirin and fly, then you needed to get an upchit from the a Flight Doc before heading to the airplane.

    I’d gladly give up the worthless ritual of the 3rd class Medical, with a promise that I would confer with the AME if I was going to take OTC Meds before flying.

    • Larry S says:

      Talking about what you’ll do when you’re flying “Uncle’s” airplane is one thing but sliding the idea over to when you’re flying your own airplane is quite another. In the USAF, we don’t have upchits from ‘Mommy’ … we have common sense and personal responsibility. Same thing should apply to civilian flying. “Flight Doc’s” and AME’s have no vested interested in signing you as airworthy; THAT is the problem. Not only is CYA an issue but they are trying to perpetuate their own fiefdoms. No pilot in his right mind would fly if he had any thought that he/she wasn’t up to it but I’ve flown many times when I wished that I was still in bed. Finally, flying a Cessna is quite a bit different than pulling 6 G’s in an F-16 or pointing an Airbus with 250 people aboard.

      • TedK says:

        We aviators have very little understanding on the effects of OTC Meds on aviation physiology. Flight Surgeons do, and AMEs, if they don’t already, should have that included in their training and toolkit. OTC Meds can have insidious side effects, particularly in an aviation environment. A much better use for an AME would be counseling and advice on the use of specific OTC Meds.

  6. DEL says:

    The reason Mac, and most of us, I believe, ignore the medications drowsiness warning is the “Cry Wolf” effect. And the reason that pharmaceutical cry “Wolf!” is the “Cover Arse” effect. These warnings don’t contribute to safety—they actually diminish it. Why? Suppose some insane authority sets the road speed limit to 10 mph, for safety reasons, of course. Nobody would comply and as a result there would effectively be no speed limit at all.

    A few months ago my doctor prescribed me a drug that said I shouldn’t drive, shouldn’t drink any alcohol, etc. etc. I told him I can do without the driving part but I can’t do without a glass of wine at dinner. He said: “Don’t worry about it, they write it on most anything and it means nothing.”

    • DEL says:

      I should add that the “Cover Arse” effect is a consequence of the “Litigate Everyone in Sight 360 3D-degrees” effect, which, in turn, results from misreading the Constitution as saying “… and the right to achieve happiness.” All these are society-wrecking effects.

      In order to contribute to flight safety, drug warnings should be issued sparingly, proportionaly, and reflect the true influence of the stuff. There’s no way around the FAA having medications well-researched and put on a mandatory list. Until then—everyone can do as they understand (drive with any speed they feel safe with.)

  7. Richard Montague says:

    The NTSB is “seeing OTC drugs turn up more and more frequently in pilots’ remains.” How about some data here? Has it doubled from 1% to 2% or gone from 15% to 18% or what? How does that compare to auto fatalities? Since a lot of us elder folk are taking an aspirin a day that could account for a lot. Could 81 mg of aspirin cause a crash or just show up as “OTC drugs in the pilot’s system?” Since OTC drugs, like prescription drugs, affect different people in different ways to different degrees there is little way the NTSB can “know” to what extent a drug contributed to an accident. That’s a bit like saying that in most fatal crashes the pilots had eaten within six hours prior to the accident.

  8. Brett Hawkins says:

    Me thinks (actually, me certain) that the anti-DL medical faction is afraid this issue is gaining traction and asked the NTSB to voice an opinion publicly. The head of a fed agency which features safety in its name is not going on the record with something like “No medical? No problemo!!” Of course he/she is gonna make a we are concerned CYA statement.

    However, aware that knowledgeable 3rd parties are going to ask for data, he/she notes the lack thereof but makes a weak argument in the form of “If they don’t want to follow the medcert rules, it means they probably won’t follow any other rules”.

    (Sorry, Dr. Bruce, but) with 10 years of positive LSA experience, there is no valid medical reason to require the 3rd Class for PPs flying small aircraft on a recreational basis. So it boils down to politics, and politics alone.

    Based on the DOT rulemaking website, the FAA has not taken any formal action advancing a NPRM on this issue. So sit down. Think of the cost of complying with a bogus SI (or 2, or 3) for the rest of your flying days, and write a few small checks to your members of Congress asking them to support GAPPA.

    • Brett Hawkins says:

      Update: as of this morning (8/14) the published DOT schedule of events for the DL medical proposal was updated, indicating that the FAA-proposed draft rule was in fact forwarded to DOT for review on 7/24/14.

      • Brett Hawkins says:

        Update: as of this morning (8/15) the published DOT schedule of events for the DL medical proposal was revised to provide for a 90-day (originally 60-day) public comments period, pushing the earliest possible “action date” on this NPRM to March 9, 2015.

        • Steve says:

          It will take an act of congress and this will probably happen before 3/2015
          Completely absurd. Wonder why we are broke? Wonder no more.

  9. “Just what does the current 3rd class gain us? I Passed every exam I took. I’ve had 2 strokes and a heart attack. All three came with absolutely no warning. None of the so called warning signs for the heart attack.

    The Drs have found the cause of the strokes and tell me I should have no more. I had an article in the ABS journal about strokes, stroke recovery and getting your medical back, which I did with no restrictions. After one year the waved any additional requirements for the medical.

    Incidentally, my arteries were so clean that the cardiologist made them run another check to make sure it wasn’t a mistake. I think it was about 4 years later that I had the heart attack. The main artery feeding the heart muscles was over 98% blocked. (They call it “the widow maker”) A major change in less than 4 years. None of these were caught by much more comprehensive physicals than the 3rd class medical. It’s unlikely even the 1st class would have found anything wrong.

    Uncontrolled high blood pressure, certain medications and medical conditions will cause the applicant to fail, but AFAIK All of these manifest themselves so the applicant knows ahead of time. So they just don’t renew until, or if the condition/medication is remedied.

    That the driver can pull over and the pilot can’t is likely to make much difference to the pilot. With the first stroke, I’d been talking on the phone. I hung up, turned around to walk to the couch when my left leg slid out like I’d stepped on ice. I caught myself and walked over to the couch, normally. I thought that maybe I’d go talk to my wife about it. When I went to get up, my left leg wasn’t there. My wife immediately ran me through the “Grin, Reach, and Speech” test which I did fine. Just as she said, “I guess that rules out a stroke”, the little finger on my left hand went numb, then the next. As the middle finger was going numb, I said, ” I think we better call someone!”
    A half hour later the only movement on my left side was the index finger moving about an 1/8th of an inch. 6 months later the only sign left was a slight limp.

    Had I been in the air ?: I lost complete use of my left side in less than a couple of minutes. Time enough to warn those on the ground, but I’d have been landing with only one hand and one foot. If there was any cross wind it had better be from starboard. There would have been no coordinated control and throttle input!

    What caused my strokes? It’s called A-Fib. It’s “often caused by an elevated heart rate” when the one heart chamber is enlarged. In my case, it was so slight no one had ever noticed. It’s often the cause where athletes in their prime drop dead, or have a stroke after long duration events such as marathons, triathlons, or iron man competitions.

    Yes there are pilots that ignore the rules, but I think they are very few. Most of us view taking to the air when “a bit under the weather” as scary.

  10. Altitude like, like respone times, like medications affects different people, different ways and to different degrees as does age. At 74 my eyesight is still 20/15 for distance, but I need glasses for reading…Too many days with 12 to 16 hours on computers.

    We would do well to pay attention to things with age and a very important one is judgemental ability. Like drinking too much, the subject is usually the last to know. I’ve seen several pilots lose their judgemental ability, and none were at all aware of the change. Maybe you push your limits to more than they used to be. Usually with age, we reduce our limits. So if you are departing in weather that used to keep you on the ground, or flying that no electrical system tail dragger into twilight as long as you can see to land you might stop and think it’s time to stop rationalizing. Usually it takes some event to make the pilot aware. Some never realize it even after failing an FAA mandated flight check after some incident.

  11. Sarah A says:

    OK so the NTSB is seeing an increased incidence of OTC medications in dead pilots. Have they ever stopped to consider that is mearly a side effect of the high pressure marketing that is seen at all levels of the pharmaceutical industry ? That does not mean that the medications actually have any contribution to the accident. I imagine if they checked they would also see a higher incidence of hair care products but I do not really see a link there either, just a comment on the effectiveness of mass marketing.

    Those warning labels mentioned are ignored because they are so universally present thanks to the Legal Department, another of todays influences, and do not necessarily mean there is any such problem, just a possibility and they want to CYA. The effects of OTC and prescription medications vary greatly due to individual characteristics, age being one of those, so trying to come up with any Black/White statement of what should be allowed is absurd. The best thing to do is allow the individual pilot to make their own assessment based on their own experience and stop trying to mandate what is allowed based on the whims of OKC. If a pilot would fly after taking a medication that they know adversly affects their performance then all the medicals in the world are not going to stop such behavior. Remeber that these same pilots are going to get in their cars and drive to/from the airport possibly in heavy traffic in the same state.

  12. Thomas says:

    Let me understand this… Medically certificated pilots are being found with medication in their systems, and this shows that medical certification is necessary?

    Doesn’t it actually show that education is necessary, and medical certification utterly useless?

    • Brett Hawkins says:

      Thomas: Perhaps you took a course in formal logic during your college days? (“All men are mortal. Socrates is….”). Never know when math will come to the rescue to debunk a bogus argument.

  13. DEL says:

    I have an issue with the whole concept of a nanny-FAA telling me what to do for my own good. As to uninsured risk to third parties, a sick LSA or ultralight pilot, especially when flying alone, is much less a menace then a car driver in the same condition. The original sin is in taking the responsibility to our own well-being from our hands into those of the nanny-state.

    I resent that. I know when I shouldn’t drive and I’m 10 times as careful about when I shouldn’t fly. Some of my rules are more stringent than those of the nannies, but some are less. As a custom-made safety system, mine is better fitted to my own characteristics and thus safer. And I hate it when I comply with dumb regulations just for fearing the law.

    And if I’m wrong and put myself in danger, as nanny thinks, so what? It’s my problem, isn’t it?

    • Ian says:

      Well spoken Del! I drive a home-restored old sports car on the public roads without any medical checks. I could do a lot of damage with it, and they may even find OTC medicaments in “my remains”. Is that any more, or any less, dangerous than flying a LSA or an E-AB ? When I consider I am not fit to drive, I will stop. I am 72 now, I could have a stroke or a heart attack tomorrow – or maybe not. A third-class medical would not show that – but I am not allowed to fly because there isn’t a school over here which will take me on .

      • As I said earlier. I never failed a medical. I had two strokes and a heart attack. All came without any warning, including the so called warning signs of an imminent heart attack. I stayed off the roads until my Doc told me I should be safe to drive, or he got tired of hearing me ask.

  14. Jim Rice says:

    Seems the vast majority of those dying with OTC drugs in their system all have a medical and still do it. Self certification has always been part of the process. I would think non-medical holders would be at least as responsible, if not more so.

  15. Louie says:

    It is really heartening to read the responses on this forum. Everybody seems to have the same basic ideas and that is there is no better judge of the pilots condition at any point in time than the pilot himself. You simply cannot legislate out stupidity. In the final analysis, Mother Nature is exceedingly good at weeding out stupid. This is one of the many great attractions to aviating that I enjoy. It is generally a very honest pursuit. You abide by Mother Nature’s rules and you will generally be okay. You violate those same rules and you will generally not be okay for very long. The person who violates Mother’s rules will generally violate all the other rules in life and not be with us very long. That same person will violate Uncle Sam’s rules also. Which takes us back to the fact that you cannot legislate stupid. In answer to the unasked question, “Why does government want to try to legislate every facet of our lives?”; it is in the nature of all governments to do so. Look up Fascism in Webster’s Unabridged and you should find in the definitions: “Control of the people through regulation and taxation.”. All governments tend toward this and are exceedingly reluctant to give any of it up. That is exactly why the bureaucracy is so resistant to change; they would be giving up a big chunk of control. If we target any other reasonable excuse, we would be missing the point. But I digress.

  16. Eric7 says:

    I’ve reread Mac’s post several times. What he says is:

    - the NTSB is seeing an increasing proportion of fatal accidents where the pilot had OTC drugs in his system

    - while there is no data specifically linking these drugs to accidents, we know that the effects of these drugs vary by individual and it is likely that as we age, the negative impact increases

    - we need to be increasingly careful with the use of these drugs

    - if we are not, and the trend continues, we hurt our chances of getting the relief from medical certification that we all want

    For the life of me, I cannot find any part of this to disagree with. Like some of you, I would like more data – but having met Dr. Weener, I’m sure the data is there. He is an avid GA pilot who likely flew his Bonanza to AirVenture. He’s one of us… not an evil government bureaucrat. He has our best interests in mind.

    • DEL says:

      Eric7, the trouble is I, too, am one of us; I, too, have our best interests in mind. There are two differences, though: 1) he gets to tell us what to do and I don’t—not even tell myself; 2) our best interests include one he’s exempt from: be politically smart so as to avoid harm from the authorities. (A Russian quip says “Walk with them as you do with a potty full to the rim.”)

      Dr. Weener is certainly well meaning and not evil. The problem is not with the person but with the function he occupies and, once they are adopted, with the mindless, rigid rules and procedures it is using in lieu of common sense. He is a cog in an blind machine the nature of which is to fatalistically run its course.

      (Everybody knows what happens to a kind and loving person when he or she puts on uniform and goes on shift. And everybody knows the practical difference between doing a foolish thing and getting punished by the deed itself and getting on a form filed by that person.)

      • Having our best interests at heart is not a reason, no does it make that person “more right” It only shows what that person thinks is right. It falls right in with the “Hi I’m from the Government and I’m here to help you”. That person may have the authority, but authority never made anyone right. It only lets them tell us what to do.

        The data (what kittle there is) does not support the third class medical, nor does the presence of OTC drugs with a CYA lable in the dead pilot’s system indicate they were even a contributing factor. I have never had an OTC that said “do not drive” make me sleepy.

    • Thomas says:

      Dr. Weener is making an argument that there is a need for the 3rd Class Medical. And that is the part we are disagreeing with – not only with his conclusion, but with his logic.

    • But that does not make him right! People who have my best interests at heart scare me. They have what “they think” are my best interests at heart. Can they show me the data backing up what they think.

  17. Ron says:

    Warnings labels of not driving or operating machinery while using an over the counter medication (OTC) have become so common it is almost impossible to find an OTC medication that doesn’t have the warning.

    If I were to guess, I would say it is a CYA from corporate attorneys. It protects them in the case of a one in a million negative OTC drug reaction. Sooner or later it is going to appear on tooth paste.

    I have been flying for over 50 years without bending any aluminum and wish the FAA would spend more time figuring out how to get more pilots in the air rather than figuring why we can’t fly.

    • DEL says:

      Ron, you say precisely what I’ve said above, only much more politely, much more understandable in an American setting and without explicit 4-letter words. KUtGW!

    • Larry S says:

      Ron … you hit the nail on the head with your last comment ! At the Administrator’s “Meet the Boss” forum at Airventure, he said — quite a few times — that the FAA is in the mode of “How do we say Yes.” Well, given all the actions the FAA has taken of late, I think he has it backwards. He and his Administration talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. When the last aviator hangs up his headset, the NTSB and FAA will have achieved their goal of 100% aviation safety.

      • DEL says:

        Let me tell him how to say “Yes.” Very simple: just turn your switch from Nanny Mode to Service Mode and begin to view us as customers rather than as subjects. Then “Yes” will come out as easily and naturally as from a 2-years-old.

        • Larry S says:

          You have hit upon the way to fix the problem, Del. During my later years in the USAF and then working for a very large aero company, taking care of your internal and external “customers” was job #1 and it was drilled into us. The problem with the FAA is that they ONLY take care of their internal customers at the expense of the people who are their bread and butter. Maybe we pilots should find the FAA’s “O-F-F” button …

  18. Andy Goldstein says:

    DEL – “I have an issue with the whole concept of a nanny-FAA telling me what to do for my own good.” It’s not about you. It’s about the great unwashed non-flying public who would rather not have aircraft crashing into their living rooms. Here’s a good example of where the FAA is at:

    “FAR 91.119 (Minimum safe altitudes) Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:
    (a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.” (etc.)

    What about risk to pilot or passengers? Nada. Buzz the mountain tops. Strafe the rivers. Go wild. Just make sure there’s no campers or cabins around. Since it’s impractical to stop and check pilots for fitness when they fly into populated areas, you’re required to be fit all the time.

    That said, I’m all in favor of dumping the 3rd class medical. For the simple reason that we have credible statistical evidence that it’s worthless. Not because I see the FAA as a nanny trying to protect me from myself.

    - Andy

    • DEL says:

      Andy, on the safety of third parties I’ve said above that LSA and ultralight pilots are statistically much less of a menace than car drivers, let alone heavy truck drivers.

      Of course, there are sensible FARs, but most of those are so sensible they need not be mentioned at all. Anyway, 3rd class medicals, the subject of this post, is not among them.

      I think if the volume of flight regulations of concern to PP were comparable in size to that of driving, it would not have been so preposterous and its actual contribution to safety would have been much greater.

  19. Hunter Heath says:

    If the NTSB is finding “more” OTC drugs in deceased pilots’ blood than they used to, I strongly suspect that one reason is that they are looking harder. The technology for identifying small quantities of numerous drugs in human blood or tissues has advanced a great deal recently, and it would be interesting to know the effect of increased use of the technology on the NTSB findings. There is a saying among doctors that “You only see what you look for, and you only look for what you know.”

  20. Patrik J says:

    That “OTC medications frequently show up in the pilots remains after fatal accidents” means exactly nothing without knowing how frequently they show up in pilots that don’t have accidents. This is a fundamental misapplication of statistics. One could just as likely say “cell phones are increasingly found with pilots in fatal accidents” and blame cell phones, when the reality is just that a huge fraction of EVERYONE carries cell phones, so of course they will be found with pilots that have accidents as well.

    In order to know whether OTC medications have an effect on safety, a control sample is needed, that is, they need to randomly select pilots who have NOT had an accident and test their blood.

  21. L16Pilot says:

    I just turned 75 and have a complete physical every year. Eye exam about every two years. Other than wearing glasses for distance (test 20/20) I have no ‘physical problems’ and all vitals look excellent (his words) to my regular doctor. I’ve been flying light sport now for about 10 years but have had my PP for over thirty years and 1100 hours. It would be nice to get into something like a Cherokee or 172 but I can see some mistake (much depends on who is doing the FAA physical) popping up on a FAA physical and now I become a pen pal with Oklahoma city. Personally, I’m not going to fly if I don’t fell ‘up to snuff’ and I’ll bet most responsible pilots feel the same way.

  22. Mike says:

    “Did the side effects of the non-prescription medicine contribute to the cause of the accident?

    Nobody has the answer yet.”

    Nope…..Nobody knows

    What turd are you trying to stur here Mac? I think you are making a pointless point just to flap your gums.

    Has anyone on your side of this stopped to think that the reason they are seeing more of this kind of self medication, for minor conditions, is simply the advertizing and availability of these medications along with the penalty that comes with a pilot being grounded for a minor condition if they seek the advice of a doctor.

    And why would you link this to causes of accidents when nobody has any answers (Proof) about any such link in the form you are stating, or should I say insinuating.

    I keep reading you Mac, but sometimes I need taller boots

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