Friday, September 17, 2010

Privileged to Fly

The beginning of the New Year is a time when many of us look back, take stock of what's happened, and look forward. There are other important dates, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, deaths. Some prominent dates for pilots include the expiration of their flight review and their medical certificate. If you're over 40 years of age or if you hold a 1st or 2nd class medical, you get used to your medical certificate expiring more often. If you've ever had your medical certificate denied or revoked, the medical expiration date takes on even more significance, reminding you how precious our flying privileges are.

It's been nearly one year since I was awarded a special issuance 2nd class medical certificate after waiting out a one year "recovery" period. A lot has happened in the intervening months.

I'm 25 pounds lighter, within the "average" Body Mass Index for my height.

My total cholesterol dropped over 45 points and my HDL/LDL readjusted to levels considered healthy, all without taking statins. Diet and exercise worked for me. Being mostly vegetarian to start with, the key seemed to be giving up cheese and most milk products, though I still occasionally partake.

In the last year I logged just under 500 hours compared with 210 hours during my year sans medical certificate. And if you're wondering if it is legal for an instructor to teach without a medical, the answer is "yes," you just can't do so in situations that require you to act as pilot-in-command.

The most fun in the last year was flying a C441 Conquest for a few hours, doing aerial survey. Flying in the flight levels in pressurized, climate-controlled comfort, above the weather, at 280+ knots - what's not to like? The aerial survey part was tedious and tiring, but still.

Other miscellaneous statistics:
Candidates recommended - 1 private, 1 commercial, 1 instrument, 1 CFI
Wings flights given - 9
Flight Reviews given - 8
Instrument Proficiency Checks given - 5
Types of aircraft flown - 12

The clouds on my horizon have to do with renewing my special issuance certificate, which is only good for 12 calendar months: It does not revert to a 3rd class after a year. The letter I received from the FAA last year explained what was required for renewal, so I started the process in July. There were delays in getting the required examination, but by the last week of August I had the doctor's report. By the way, these reports have to be current within 60 days of the day you apply for a medical certificate.

I promptly faxed the doctor's favorable report to the FAA's medical certification folks, waited 10 days, and then called to see where things stood. The good news is they received the report, the bad news is they can't guarantee they'll be able to review it before the end of September. So rather than waiting for a letter that would give my medical examiner permission to issue a certificate after performing the required exam, I chose to get the exam knowing it would be deferred back to the FAA in Oklahoma City. The exam went well, I learned I was a couple of pounds lighter, with a low resting pulse rate and normal blood pressure. Now all the paperwork is in the FAA's hands and all I can do is wait.

Several people have expressed and continue to express incredulity that I reported the medical problem to the FAA in the first place. We live in a culture that tells us we don't have to play by the rules as long as we don't get caught and in a hyper-competitive environment, it's natural to look for ways to get ahead. One way is to opt out and the thought process, to the extent that higher-level thought actually takes place, goes something like this: "These rules/regulations/laws are really inconvenient/outdated/stupid. I'm really smart/savvy/well-educated and I know better, so I'm just going to do what I want or think is best." One colleague told tell me they respected me for choosing to disclose what happened and that they thought it took guts. That meant a lot to me.

My hope is that I will get a new medical certificate before my current certificate expires at the end of September. I have called Oklahoma City a few times and will call once a week until this is resolved. When I informed the last person I spoke with that I need a medical certificate in order to work, they seemed unmoved. I'm just a one of many cases they have to sort through. Next year, my hope is that I will be allowed to return to a normal medical issuance process and we all live for hope.

Don't wait for New Year's Eve to take stock of what's happen or think ahead to the future. Just sit down with your logbook, look back through the pages, count the landings, the aircraft flown, recall the people who flew with you, the aircraft check-outs, and the check rides. Make plans for your flying future. Get a tailwheel endorsement, earn a new certificate or rating, share the joy of flight with a friend, split safety pilot duties with another instrument pilot, or transport an ill child to their chemotherapy treatment. The world is your oyster when you have the privilege to fly.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

I too feel privileged to fly! About 5 years ago I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I've been through the whole special issuance process, and am relieved to report that I have been able to keep my medical, but only a class 3. I still look forward to the day that I can get it back to a class 2. I don't know if it is the difficult physical challenge or just my ego, but I'm not ready to give up the possibility of being paid to fly!
Bruce at