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Your Pilot’s Health

Safety and security of your company’s most valuable asset—its personnel—is dependent upon the health and wellbeing of your pilots. Relying solely on government regulations for medical certification may not be sufficient- however- warns Pete Agur.

Pete Agur   |   1st November 2012
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Pete Agur Pete Agur

Peter Agur Jr. is Chairman and Founder of VanAllen - a business aviation consultancy firm with...
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Your Pilot’s Health:
A Bad Safety Assumption.
Safety and security of your company’s most valuable asset—its personnel—is dependent upon the health and wellbeing of your pilots. Relying solely on government regulations for medical certification may not be sufficient- however- warns Pete Agur.

Your pilots must be physically at the top of their game. After all- their performance is critical to the wellbeing of your company’s most valuable assets: its key people. How do you know your pilots are truly healthy? How do you know they will stay that way? With aging comes the dramatically increased probability of significant health issues. Your cockpit crew is not immune to this eventuality. Establishing policy that assures effective oversight is a fundamental responsibility of the Board of Directors.

Case in Point: Earlier this year the customer of a Business Aviation management company reported that a 57-year-old lead captain appeared to be in declining health. He had recently gained a substantial amount of weight and was observed to have shortness of breath while performing normal tasks- like climbing the aircraft stairs. The management company met with the captain and developed a health management plan. A short time later the captain went to his preferred Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) for his semi-annual First Class physical. He passed the physical. Even so- two weeks later the captain died in his sleep.

It would be easy to assume the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates passenger safety sufficiently to cover this seemingly obvious situation. They do- but regulations alone do not ensure their intent is achieved.

The FAA is very clear that anyone who acts as pilot-in-command on a scheduled air carrier must have an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate- as well as hold a current First Class physical conducted by a designated AME every six months. The Best Practice within Business Aviation is to parallel this standard.

That Best Practice was in place in the case of the 57-year-old pilot mentioned above. Obviously- it was not enough. There was no practice in place to ensure the quality of the flight physical. The FAA works hard to monitor the performance of its AMEs. Yet- every major city has a few who are willing to go for volume over quality. In this case- it was reported that the new medical certificate listed the pilot’s weight as being dramatically below reality.

What is the answer? You could wait a long time for the government to perform perfectly. It is far more effective for your company to establish a simple improvement to the established Best Practices policy: All cockpit crewmembers must maintain a current First Class medical certificate obtained from an AME approved by the company. Have someone do the research to identify a few AMEs in your area who are known to be competent and conscientious.

Those AMEs should be the only ones who examine your pilots. But- is that short list of physicians enough to achieve the results you want?

There is an added step you can take to ensure the wellness of your pilots. Require your cockpit crew members to also participate in an annual executive physical. This would be paid for by the company. This examination does not need to be conducted by an AME.

It is easy to see this added effort as a benefit to both the company and crew members. After all- who wouldn’t want to catch a critical health issue in its early stages when it is likely to be the most treatable? Yet many pilots view any kind of physical examination as a threat. This is because the FAA regulations clearly state that if an airman is aware of any condition that would inhibit his or her ability to perform their duties- they must not fly and must report the condition to the FAA. In other words- their livelihood is at stake. Why else would a grossly overweight pilot seek out an AME who might rubber stamp his medical certificate?

As with any other corporate policy- there needs to be equity to this expanded wellness insurance policy. What happens if there is a critical health finding? Is the company able to temporarily or permanently move the pilot to a non-flying job that allows him or her to contribute sufficiently to justify no significant reduction in compensation? Does the company have the ability (time and resources) to support the possible education or retraining process of a medically-grounded pilot? If so- put the policy and its supporting practices in place. If not- consider adding Loss of License insurance to your cockpit crew benefit package.

Loss of License coverage is a special insurance for pilots. It pays medically-grounded flight crew members supplemental income temporarily or permanently.

It can be acquired through the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). The benefits of this insurance can divert pushback and encourage acceptance of your company’s policy to oversee pilots’ health. After all- you want your pilots to be physically at the top of their game. Otherwise- you may be making a bad safety assumption- and abdicating your responsibilities to shareholders as well as to employees.

Do you have any questions or opinions on the above topic? Get them answered/published in World Aircraft Sales Magazine. Email feedback to: Jack@avbuyer.com

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