By Dr. Susan Northrup, FAA Federal Air Surgeon
As the world gets back to a more normal rhythm and we can again celebrate the magic of air shows, I want to share information on how the FAA’s Office of Aerospace Medicine (AAM) supports large events like AirVenture and Sun ’n Fun. There are three major areas in which AAM brings its expertise to the pilot community.
We have the ability to give pilots classroom training and firsthand experience of some of the potentially dangerous conditions encountered in flight, but while safely on the ground. The Aerospace Medical Education Division, part of the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Okla., takes training events on the road in addition to the training provided at CAMI. The Portable Reduced Oxygen Training Enclosure (PROTE) system, is a “portable room” that allows one to experience a low oxygen environment similar to that obtained in an altitude chamber or at altitude. To help ensure safety, we require participants hold a current FAA medical certificate (Class I, II, or III) or BasicMed qualification. PROTE allows users to experience hypoxia at ambient pressure and avoid the risk from an ear block, sinus block, or decompression sickness. While the early warning signs of hypoxia are common, there is variation among individuals in terms of which warning signs present first. It is best to learn how your body reacts to hypoxia while safely on the ground. In fact, the military requires this during initial and recurrent training for its aircrew members.
This training for PROTE is very popular and typically all the slots fill early. The demand is so high that it is the only training that we have taken on the road since 2015. We do offer a number of other courses at CAMI though, as well as PROTE.
The Doctor is In
What if you have a specific question about your medical certification? At large events, we have a booth in the FAA exhibit area where pilots can stop by to talk to an AAM doctor and review their medical file. This is a great way to check on the status of your medical, see if information is missing, and even ask how to speed up the process. If all the needed information has been submitted and is favorable, we have been able to issue a medical certificate right there.
Remember that it’s not uncommon for a condition to be acceptable even while the treatment is not. We can advise if there is an alternative that is acceptable aeromedically. You can have a more educated discussion with your personal physician in either event. Don’t forget though, that your health is always the priority. Compromising it in order to fly will almost certainly have a cost at some point.
See You in the Forum
In addition to answering medical certification questions and providing training, we also have experts who present on a number of topics (and at other aviation events, not just air shows). In my talk this year, I plan to address a new online series called the Pilot Minute, mental health, and the new dashboard in MedXPress to allow tracking of your medical. I will also address some of the steps that we are taking to reduce processing time; and, steps that you can take yourself. Hope to see you there.
Dr. Susan Northrup received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, a medical degree from The Ohio State University, and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Texas. She is double board-certified by the American Board of Preventive Medicine in Aerospace Medicine and Occupational Medicine. She is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and a former regional medical director for Delta Air Lines. She is also an active private pilot.