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What Do You Do When The FAA Denies Your Medical Application Because Your Doctor Made The Wrong Diagnosis?

by Greg Reigel 28. November 2017 15:09
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I was recently asked this question by an airman in this very difficult situation. When the airman was younger, the airman was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. More recently the airman was evaluated by a new doctor who told the airman that, in the doctor’s opinion, the previous diagnosis was wrong and the airman did not, in fact, have bipolar disorder.

Based upon the current doctor’s opinion, the airman applied for a medical certificate. However, despite submitting all of the airman’s medical records, including the earlier bipolar diagnosis as well as the current doctor’s opinion and evaluation, the FAA denied the airman’s application.

So, what are the airman’s options? Well, an airman may appeal the FAA's denial of a medical certificate by filing a petition with the NTSB requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). But an airman may only appeal the denial of an unrestricted medical certificate. Since the decision to grant a special issuance is at the discretion of the FAA, the NTSB will not entertain an appeal of the denial of a special issuance.

A hearing is then held at which both the airman and the FAA present evidence through documents and testimony from doctors, medical experts, the FAA and the airman. Oftentimes the airman's treating physician(s), who usually don't have aviation medicine training or experience, will testify that the symptoms and/or condition do not pose a threat to aviation safety and that the airman should be able to fly safely. However, when this type of opinion is presented at the hearing in contradiction to the FAA's expert witnesses, the Board will usually give greater weight to the FAA's expert witnesses based upon the Board’s perception that they have "superior" qualifications in aviation medical standards.

Also, depending upon the condition, an actual diagnosis of a disqualifying medical condition may not be required for the FAA to deny a medical application. Simply presenting with the disqualifying symptoms or condition, or having experienced the symptoms or condition in the past, regardless of whether the airman currently has the symptoms or condition, may be sufficient justification for the FAA to deny the medical certificate.

In order for the ALJ to reverse the FAA's denial, the airman must prove by substantial, reliable and probative evidence that the airman is qualified for the medical certificate for which he or she applied, without limitations. In light of the NTSB's deference to the FAA's medical experts, this can be a very difficult burden to meet. Additionally, an appeal is expensive: Expert medical testimony and attorney fees required for the appeal process can be quite costly.

In this airman's situation, bipolar disorder is a disqualifying condition that prevents the FAA from issuing an unrestricted medical certificate. While the FAA may consider the airman for a special issuance, that decision is solely up to the FAA and may not be appealed. So, the airman would have to fight the FAA's determination that the airman has bipolar disorder.

In order to have the FAA’s denial reversed, the airman has to convince the ALJ. This means the airman would need to have the current doctor testify not only that the airman does not suffer from bipolar disorder, but also that the airman’s current condition, to extent the airman has other disclosed medical conditions, still meets the standards for issuance of an unrestricted medical certificate. It may also be beneficial to have an independent doctor evaluate the airman and provide an opinion that athe airman does not have bipolar disorder.

Additionally, the current doctor would need to explain why the earlier bipolar diagnosis was incorrect. Depending upon the circumstances, this can be a very tough battle for the airman to win.

Unfortunately, at a time when more and more doctors are “diagnosing” kids with ADD, ADHD and other such conditions, this situation is becoming more and more common. And as we have seen, a misdiagnosis as a youth may come back to haunt an adult who wants to become a pilot and needs a medical certificate.

If you find yourself in this situation or have a medical condition that may disqualify you from obtaining a medical certificate, get help BEFORE you apply for a medical certificate. Talk to an aviation attorney or the medical certification professionals at AOPA or NBAA.

By taking a pro-active approach and getting help, you will be able to "pick your battles" wisely to maximize your chances of being able to earn your wings and/or successfully obtaining a medical certificate if necessary.

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Greg Reigel

The Aircraft Acquisition Plan

by David Wyndham 8. November 2017 09:52
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There are two fundamental reasons for acquiring new or different aircraft: (1) the current aircraft can no longer perform the mission and/or (2) the current aircraft is no longer the most cost effective solution.

Changes in mission need to be both quantified and qualified. For example, one client in the Southwest US was looking at significantly more travel to the West Coast. Their turboprop could not do the trip nonstop with the required passenger load. Their travel pattern was changing. Another client was looking at non-stop from the US to Asia. But this client was only flying that trip four to six times per year. 

If your company downsized or just sold the international division, then why continue to operate a long range aircraft? Maybe the mission has grown in a different direction. Rather than carrying a family of four on a heli-tour, you have an opportunity for electronic news gathering or have won a contract to haul a geological team to a remote site. The aircraft is a tool that enables you to get the job done. Sometimes, you need a different tool. 

You need to quantify to magnitude of the change. And, for the purchaser, what sort of value will changing aircraft the ability of the company (or individual) to be  successful? How important is non-stop versus one-stop? How much value is added by having a couple ore passenger seats? 

Economics also come into play. While the mission remains essentially the same, maybe your current aircraft is facing significant costs. Our studies and many others indicate that as aircraft age, the costs to maintain it increase. Along with the increase in cost comes an increase in the number of days per year the aircraft is in for maintenance. Additionally, for out of production aircraft, especially those with limited production runs or from manufacturers who no longer build aircraft, the availability and pricing of spares can be a serious issue. For a commercial operator, the loss of revenue from not being able to fly as many days can be worse than the added cost of maintenance. 

What is the long term cost of keeping the current aircraft versus replacing it with a newer one? I’ll discuss how to do this costing in a future article.

Whatever the reason for suggesting an equipment change and before making recommendations to senior management it pays to have a good Aircraft Acquisition Plan

To build up justification for changing or even acquiring an aircraft, you must have a plan. An aircraft acquisition plan must at a minimum:

- Identify and quantify the air transportation needs.

- Differentiate between "required" (or must have) criteria and "desired" (or nice to have) criteria.

>- Identify the aircraft best capable of meeting the transportation needs.

- Compare each of the aircraft against the requirements and rank order them.

- Contain an analysis of all the costs involved with acquiring an aircraft: acquisition, operating, and residual values. Also needed to be considered are taxes and market depreciation.

Just as a successful business has a plan for the future, so should the aviation operation. Once an aircraft is in operation, it usually is there for at least five years and often for much longer. Therefore your Aircraft Acquisition Plan should look out for at least a minimum of five years, or as long as you expect to operate that model. 

Your plan should be void of emotional issues and stay as far from subjective criteria as possible. Having firm numbers doesn't remove all questions, but it does offer a justification based on reasoned thought. If someone wants to adjust the numbers, it is far easier to reflect that change in an updated plan and to see the effect on the results. 

The final decision maker may make a final decision that leaves us pondering the result. Those emotion-led decisions are are fine to those who can accept 100% of the risk and 100% of the reward. As an advisor, we need to have a well thought out, analytical plan. 

In detail, an effective plan consists of the following elements:

- The organization's real aircraft needs.

- Key missions and evaluation parameters.

- Sources of information.

- Technical analysis and ranking.

- Fleet size.

- Financial alternatives.

- Financial analysis and ranking.

- Tax Planning.

I'll address all these over the next months as a continuing series. 

 

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Aircraft Sales | David Wyndham | Flight Department | Aircraft For Sale

Aviation Gifts for Every Budget

by Tori Williams 1. November 2017 07:00
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We are officially one month and 23 days away from Christmas! Now is definitely the best time to start looking at what gifts to buy loved ones, as Black Friday and other special discount days are coming soon. Thankfully, aviation enthusiasts can be the easiest people to shop for if you know where to look. I would like to share some of the best aviation gift ideas I have come across thus far, including an option for every budget. After all, most pilots spend all their money on airplane fuel and being budget conscious is important!

$10 or Less

Finding a great aviation gift for under $10 is usually more a matter of keeping your eyes peeled during the year for items that are branded in such a way that it appeals to aviators. For example, Starbucks had a gift card design that featured a small white airplane and “Let’s Fly Away” in a fancy font for several months last year. Buying one of those and loading up $10 for your gift recipient is the perfect way to show you were thinking of them when you saw it. I have seen makeup and body wash products that were branded with airplanes or aviation themes as well. Don’t be afraid to browse and wait for the item to present itself!

$20-$50

This price range includes the majority of aviation-themed t-shirts, airplane jewelry, and hats. These are great options if you really understand the recipient’s personal style and aircraft preferences. Would they rather have an “Eat, Sleep, Fly” t-shirt or one of these neat Airport Identifier t-shirts? Aligning the gift to their taste is important, and thankfully there are hundreds of styles of aviation apparel to choose from.

Etsy.com is a goldmine of unique and memorable aviation-themed gifts in this price range. They have an option on the left sidebar to search by price brackets as well, to ensure you don’t fall in love with an item only to realize it is hundreds of dollars.

$50-$100

Getting a little more on the expensive side, there are still very nice gift options under $100. For example, this gorgeous laser engraved genuine leather logbook is $65. (I can vouch for the quality of that particular item because I purchased one for my husband a few years back and we both love it.) Sporty’s has a nice selection of home décor items with an aviation theme. This is also typically the range of home study materials for ratings or add-ons. You may consider giving them the gift of knowledge by helping them achieve their next rating sooner!

$100+

When you get up into $100 or more, the pieces of serious aviation memorabilia and antiques that you could buy skyrocket. These wooden airplane propellers from A Simpler Time would look amazing in any home. Watches from Abingdon Co. are gorgeous and functional for all lady pilots. You could get the recipient a customized model of their personal aircraft to put on their desk. On the more practical side, you could get them a handheld radio, headset, kneeboard, or gadget for mounting their iPad inside the cockpit. Another option is to buy them a plane ride in an aircraft they've never been in before. Seaplane? Warbird? Helicopter? Having an experience in a new plane will be unforgettable.

At the end of the day, it does not matter how much you spend on the gift. All that matters is your love for the other person and celebrating your special friendship and passion for aviation. Don’t stress too much over if the gift is the perfect one, because when it comes from you it definitely will be.

Do you have a favorite aviation-themed gift that you’ve received? A gift that you were proud to have found for someone else? Let me know in the comments below!

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