Unrestricted Medical Certificates, Conditions AME’s Can Issue, and Special Issuance Authorizations
There are three general categories of medical certification depending on what kind of medical condition a pilot may have. The first one, which is always hoped for, is an unrestricted certificate. This is for pilots who have no medical conditions that require additional medical documentation and therefore do not carry a time limitation other than the normal expiration date of the certificate class. That means that a Class I expires in 6 months if the pilot was over 40 years old at the time of the exam, or 12 months if the pilot was under 40. A Class II is always valid for 12 months, and a Class III is valid for 5 years (if under 40 at the time of the exam) or 2 years if over 40. However, higher classes can lapse into lower classes if not renewed at the required time to maintain the higher class. For example, if a pilot is over 40 at the time of his/her Class I exam, it would lapse into a Class II in 6 months (if not renewed) and then into a Class III if not renewed at the end of the 12 months for another 4 years.
A relatively new category, Conditions AME’s Can issue (CACI), are for some common medical conditions that are not serious, but yet require additional documentation from the treating doctors to verify that they are stable and are not associated with any adverse effects. These require a much simpler process than Special Issuance. It is anticipated that the FAA will add more common medical conditions to this category, so stay tuned!
The third category, called Special Issuance(SI), is for medical conditions that are generally disqualifying, but yet are stable enough to be considered safe to fly – at least for a period of time that is shorter than the normal maximum expiration date for a medical certificate. In other words, it will not allow the certificate to “downgrade” from Class I to II, or from II to III, and the expiration date of that certificate will be identified in the limitations area of the certificate as “Not valid for any class after XX/XX/XXXX”. Since these are for disqualifying medical conditions, the AME may not issue the first certificate, as it must come from the FAA. The FAA requires that the pilot obtain a flight physical for the certificate class desired, he or she must be otherwise qualified, and the AME must defer the case. The pilot then provides the FAA with the required medical records to satisfy that the condition is stable enough to be issued a SI Authorization. If eligibility is determined, the FAA then sends the pilot an SI Authorization letter for that disqualifying medical with an explanation of what is required (from the treating physician) for future certificates, and encloses the first time-limited medical certificate. In many cases (depending on the medical condition and certification class), these SI Authorizations may be valid for 6 years. This allows the AME to issue the subsequent certificates (until the SI expires) as long as the medical records continue to document ongoing stability according to the specifications for that medical condition.
One important SI category is called HIMS. This is for pilots who are diagnosed with alcohol or drug abuse / dependence. These conditions require special certification by the FAA as they have unique components to treatment and monitoring, and only HIMS-certifed AME’s are authorized by the FAA to handle such cases.. Drs. Illig and Tilgner are HIMS certified Independent Medical Sponsors, and are the most highly experienced AME’s in Alaska to assist pilots who have encountered drug or alcohol problems that results in FAA action.
NOTE: no matter what class or category certificate a pilot holds, if his or her medical conditions changes, it may invalidate the current medical certificate. Our best advice is to call us and ask how a new medication or new diagnosis affects your certification. Some pilots believe that as long as their certificate has not expired, they can continue to fly even if they encountered an otherwise disqualifying medical condition. This is not true, and to do so jeopardizes your future certification and may invalidate your aviation insurance program!