FAA exempts flight crews from renewing medical certifications during pandemic

Pilots in cockpit flying at night

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.