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FAA exempts flight crews from renewing medical certifications during pandemic

The FAA is giving pilots until June 30 to renew expired medical certificates. (Image: Flickr/John Christian Fjellestad)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will allow pilots and flight engineers to continue flying with expired medical certificates through the end of June because of the extraordinary circumstances associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Flight crews normally require current documentation of medical fitness to operate commercial aircraft and need to be seen by an aviation medical examiner to renew their certification. The FAA said it will not enforce the requirement so as not to strain the healthcare system with non-urgent admissions.

“It is not in the public interest at this time to maintain the requirement of an FAA medical examination, which is a non-emergency medical service, in order for pilots and flight engineers with expiring medical certificates to obtain new medical certificates,” the FAA said in a notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on April 1. “This is because of the burden that COVID-19 places on the U.S. healthcare system, and because these aviation medical examinations increase the risk of transmission of the virus through personal contact between the physician and the applicant for an airman medical certificate.”

The FAA said the temporary exemption does not pose an unacceptable risk to safety.

The exemption only applies to flight crews working within the U.S. The waiver does not give pilots and crews the right to operate aircraft if they face a medical condition or are taking medication that would make them unable to meet the physical requirements of an unexpired medical certificate.

Last week, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a sister agency within the Department of Transportation, issued a similar waiver for commercial truck drivers because of limited resources at healthcare facilities and the closure of many driver licensing agencies. 

The U.S. government has also relaxed hours-of-service requirements for COVID-19 shipments and weight limits on trucks hauling emergency supplies.

Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]