BASIC MED … ALLELUIAH

Up until now, in the long, forlorn, misbegotten history of FAA, the agency has done exactly one good thing: ATIS. I mean, before whatever FAA genius (insert chuckle, guffaw or cackle, as appropriate to your own level of sarcasm/cynicism) decided to record the current weather information at an airport, it must have been bedlam. Can you imagine flying into Idlewild or Midway in the days before ATIS?

“Tower, TWA 69, over Staten Island dump requesting runway information.”

“TWA 69, you are number 32 for callback. Circle over the dump until I call you back.”

“United 96, Idlewild, are you still looking for weather information.”

Static

“Uh … United 96, Idlewild?”

“Tower, American 6, holding over Piscataway. I believe I saw United 96’s engines quit and he’s attempting a dead stick landing onto the Jersey Turnpike. I believe he said that he was low fuel.”

By the time the harried controller was able to read the weather information to each inbound, most of them had to divert, or crash land. The controller rarely had time to issue a landing, or takeoff, clearance because he was too bizzy reading the weather.

FAA, in its infinite wisdom (chortle), figured out that if you recorded the weather then made pilots responsible for obtaining the information before they called for a landing or takeoff clearance, then the tower controllers would actually have time to issue those clearances. It was genius.
But, as I already said, er … writ … that was FAA’s only good idea.

Until now. Somehow, some way, some miraculous event occurred and FAA has stumbled upon another good idea. It’s name is BASIC MED, and it’s about bloody time.

For those of us attacked by the ravages of age, or burdened with borderline medical issues, Basic Med is nirvana. Go online and print a form (oh, and 8 pages of instructions), make an appointment with any Doctor – although AME’s are the best bet because they’re not afraid of certifying anyone to fly airplanes – get a regular medical check-up, fill out an online medical self-assessment and VOILA, you’re free from FAA medical weenies and only marginally bothered by FAA for the next four bloody years. Alleluiah. (You do have to take the medical self-assessment course every other year, but it’s worthwhile info as you’ll read in a little while.)

What’s the catch? Well, you can’t fly anything weighing more than 6000 lbs, or with more than 5 passengers, or above 17,999 feet. You cannot fly faster than 250 knots, and you’re stuck flying within the United States since no other countries yet recognize Basic Med. You can instruct, praise Haysoos, but you can’t fly pax or freight and receive any recompense.

What other hooks are there? Well, you’ve had to have held an FAA-issued medical certificate within the past 10 years – even a Special Issuance, like the one I got after my heart attack. Other medical issues that require you’re having had a Special Issuance Medical are as follows: if you have had a mental health issue, like a psychosis, a bipolar disorder or addiction to drugs over the last two years; if you’ve had a neurological disorder like epilepsy or loss of consciousness; or if you’ve had a cardiovascular condition, like my heart attack, or coronary heart disease, valve or heart replacement.

But if you’re a new student pilot, you still have to submit to an exam for a 3rd Class Medical, or 2nd, or even 1st if you’re overly ambitious.

How hard’s the medical self-assessment? Well, I’ve just taken mine. AOPA – the provider – says it’ll take an hour. I’m a little slower than most so it took me nearly two, but then I downloaded and read every extra bit of info offered by the course. As much as I dislike canned speechifying, AOPA’s Medical Self-Assessment, a pilot’s guide to flying healthy, is a thought-provoking discussion of topics we’re all vaguely familiar with – but rarely bother to pay attention to.

Many topics we’ve learned over the years as we progressed through different certificates and ratings, readying for check rides. There are discussions of 14CFR 61.53 regarding the health of pilots, 91.17 about drinking, 91.211 on oxygen usage. Have you forgotten about hypoxia, or hyperventilation, or carbon monoxide poisoning, their causes and symptoms? How about spacial disorientation and all of its forms – do you remember any of that? (I learned about the differences between graveyard spirals and graveyard spins – I didn’t even know there were graveyard spins.)

There are discussions on G-LOC: gravity-induced loss of consciousness. Atrial fibrillation is one topic; respiratory failure another. Type 1 and 2 diabetes are discussed and the evil effects of each. Other topics focus on the health and illnesses of your eyes: age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, retinopathy.

There is attention paid to the use of both over-the-counter and prescription drugs and how they can affect the safety of your flights. For instance, did you know that pilots are not allowed to medicate for motion sickness? I didn’t. There’s even a discussion of the IMSAFE acronym. There’s a whole bunch of useful information about the state of your health, and how to assess potential medical issues.

I found that it was a worthwhile two hours, reminding me of topics I’d forgotten about, and others I didn’t know about. AOPA did a good job with this course and it’s worthwhile taking even if you aren’t going the Basic Med route.

So … that’s two good ideas in FAA’s nearly 60 years of bureaucratic efficiency. Makes you almost believe in Santa Claus, don’t it? (Sheez, were they in bidness, they’d have gone belly up 59 years ago.)

Basic Med. Alleluiah. It’s about damned time.

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