Before coming to the FAA, Dr. David Hardy was the commander of the operational medical readiness squadron at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. During his 21 years in the U.S. Air Force, he logged thousands of hours as a military flight surgeon, including 38 missions in Afghanistan.
“I loved the comradery and teamwork required to be aircrew, but I never wanted to be in the pilot seat,” he said. “I got into aviation because I love the Air Force, and I saw flight medicine as the best way I could contribute.”
The culture and mission of the Air Force and the FAA’s Office of Aerospace Medicine were a perfect match, making the transition from military to civil flight medicine a snap.
Dr. Hardy is the regional flight surgeon responsible for international, military, and federal government aviation medical examiners (AME) designated by the FAA. These duties include designating new AMEs, renewing designations, and ensuring the quality of medical facilities and exams. He also serves as a resource for AMEs who have questions about a specific medical case.
As the newly appointed Aerospace Medical Education Division (AMED) manager, he is charged with growing pilot, aircrew, controller, and AME educational efforts across the country and internationally.
“I’ve always enjoyed being an educator,” he notes. “When I was still in the military, I ran the International Education and Training Division at the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and enjoyed interacting with my students and building bridges.”
AMED conducts seminars for new and renewing physicians and provides safety briefings and exercises for pilots, including training in spatial disorientation, hypoxia recognition, and survival. They also provide library support and produce educational aeromedical publications and videos.
Recently, AMED accomplished a revamp in the residency in aerospace medicine partnership with military and civil programs that provide joint education and training. A two-week orientation course at the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City allows doctors to achieve AME status with a greater understanding of flight risk and safety measures. Annual AME seminars for military flight surgeons provide the same understanding without teaching aerospace physiology since they already receive that training.
“One of the biggest challenges in aeromedical certification is that pilots believe that the AME is there to take away their pilot certificate,” he mentions. “That is not the case. Of the nearly 400,000 medical applications submitted last year, only around 5,000 were initial denials.”
Dr. Hardy further explains that 95% of those initial denials didn’t pursue any of the follow-up medical tests and consults requested by the FAA.
“What many people don’t realize is that they can apply for authorization of a special issuance for most disqualifying conditions. Last year, the FAA approved approximately 35,000 special issuances.”
The authorization for a special issuance is a robust option for pilots, and your AME can help you through that process.
With the easing of travel restrictions and more in-person training and seminars, keep an eye out for Dr. David Hardy. You will recognize him from his Boston accent. He’s there to help.
Paul Cianciolo is an associate editor and the social media lead for FAA Safety Briefing. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran and an auxiliary airman with Civil Air Patrol.