SODA — It’s Not Just a Fizzy Drink
By Dr. Susan Northrup, FAA Federal Air Surgeon
Maintaining the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS) and the public is the fundamental purpose of the FAA. Expanding access for all to the ranks of aviation is also a major goal. To that end, the Office of Aerospace Medicine oversees several processes that allow pilots to get a medical certificate more quickly despite certain disqualifying conditions. We authorize Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs) to make decisions to speed up the certification process through programs like Conditions AMEs Can Issue (CACI) and AME Assisted Special Issuance (AASI). These successful programs allow more pilots to leave the AME with their certificates in hand. In this article, we’ll cover the Statement of Demonstrated Ability (SODA).
So, What’s a SODA?
Most individuals qualify for a pilot medical certificate at the time of examination. The majority of those with potentially disqualifying conditions ultimately are also issued a medical, but are required to have a more detailed evaluation. Broadly speaking, there are conditions that typically progress, while others remain relatively static. For the former group, we usually put pilots on a Special Issuance (SI), AASI, or CACI. The particular condition(s) determines the necessary evaluation(s) and frequency. For static conditions, such as an amputation or color deficiency, we generally issue a SODA if the pilot is capable of performing airman duties without endangering public safety. (For color deficiency, we issue a Letter of Evidence (LoE), equivalent from the pilot’s perspective. We are currently reviewing this process though). Unlike an SI or AASI, neither a SODA nor a LoE expires as long as the underlying condition has not adversely changed.
Initial issuance of a SODA or LoE usually includes a medical flight test (MFT) as performed by either an ASI (aviation safety inspector) at a Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) or a designated pilot examiner (DPE). This evaluation typically includes both a ground and airborne evaluation. You will be authorized to take the MFT even if you do not currently qualify for a medical certificate. It is rare, but possible, to authorize a SODA or LoE based on operational experience.
For static conditions, such as an amputation or color deficiency, we generally issue a SODA if the pilot is capable of performing airman duties without endangering public safety.
There are some things you can do to help facilitate the SODA/LoE. Before your examination, contact your AME to determine what information to bring and their availability to help with the process; also, discuss the aircraft you want to use. Most FSDOs can accommodate the typical single-engine, dual-control trainers, but your local FSDO might not be able to accommodate a request for other aircraft types. Come prepared to tell your AME which FSDO you request. We will send that FSDO an authorization for an MFT (as applicable) and courtesy copy you. Please identify your desired FSDO early; the process is delayed when we need to ask. Be aware that the AME will defer your exam and the FAA subsequently will issue a denial pending the outcome of the MFT.
Once you have the SODA, simply present your authorization letter to your AME, and he or she may issue a medical certificate if you are otherwise qualified. This simplifies your certification process going forward. The SODA may have specific limitations that allow the pilot to perform to an acceptable standard and will be issued for a specific class of medical (First, Second, or Third).
How Does This Help You?
Once you have provided any additional information needed, successfully completed your MFT (if required), and been granted a SODA/LoE, you’re done. If the condition remains static, simply type your SODA number (N/A for LoE) into MedXPress and present the letter (for both) to the AME when you renew your medical. The FAA and other pilots benefit since this frees up resources to expedite reviews of other examinations. It’s a win-win.