Let me start with a word of advice: DON’T DO IT. I will follow that up with a word of warning. You can be fined up to $250,000 and jailed for five years for lying to the federal government. All FAA medical certificate applicants are required to acknowledge that warning before submitting their application in MedXPress. Beyond criminal penalties and keeping your pilot’s license, there are many other reasons to be forthright with your FAA Aviation Medical Examiner (AME), but for now – just as a thought experiment – consider that you choose to falsify your medical certificate application. What are the chances you will get caught?
The MedXPress application
In order to understand how likely it is the FAA would catch you lying, it is important to understand how they would catch you. The FAA medical certification process starts when you fill out an electronic application in MedXPress. In addition to providing your name, address, recent doctor appointments and hospitalizations, and details about your medical history, you will also need to acknowledge several warnings. Before submitting your application, you will be required to review the penalties above, certify that you know the FAA will be scrutinizing your medical history, and authorize the National Driver Register to provide the FAA with a copy of your driving record.
Your FAA Flight Physical
After you complete your MedXPress application, you will need to schedule an FAA flight physical with an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). Your AME will review your MedXPress application in detail and conduct a physical exam. If you qualify for an FAA medical certificate, they will issue it to you at the end of your appointment, document your exam findings, and transmit your application to the FAA. If they have any concerns about your eligibility to hold a medical certificate, AMEs can also deny your application or defer your certification to the FAA for further review.
FAA Medical Certification Review
Whether or not your AME issues your medical certificate, the FAA’s Aeromedical Certification Division (AMCD) will review your application. AMCD will consider much more than the information you submitted in MedXPress and your AME’s exam findings. They will also review how your current application compares to the ones you have submitted in the past and your driving record. Military veterans should also be aware that the FAA now routinely cross-references your VA disability rating when determining your eligibility for a medical certificate.
Issue or Issues
If your application passes AMCD’s scrutiny, the certificate your AME issued will remain valid for a period of time determined by your age and the type of certificate you applied for. If they find any issues, they will ask for more information. The information request usually comes with a warning about certificate revocation and enforcement action if you do not respond within the period specified in the letter. Usually, that period of time is 60 days. The information they request is typically a collection of recent medical records that address the concerns they identified in your application.
Getting Caught Lying by the FAA
With that framework in mind, it should be obvious that the FAA has a number of overlapping methods to catch you lying on your flight physical application.
- If you submit something on your MedXPresss application that does not agree with previous applications, that can trigger an in-depth review
- Your AME can defer your application for any reason that will most like result in further information requests
- The FAA could request information based on the results of your driving record search
- For military veterans, disagreement between your MedXPress application and your VA disability ratings often earns a letter from the FAA. This is likely true for those receiving social security disability benefits as well
If you succeed in running that gauntlet, there is something else to consider. Someday you might actually have a problem you cannot hide.
What Happens When the FAA gets Suspicious
The FAA processes close to 400,000 flight physicals every year. They generally do not spend a significant amount of time reviewing each one. If a question comes up about whether or not a pilot is qualified to hold an FAA medical certificate, the application itself usually does not contain enough information for AMCD to make a truly informed decision. Instead, they send a letter asking for more information from you and your doctors. That is when the truth will come out. Responding to a letter from the FAA about your medical certificate almost always requires you to provide detailed notes from your treating physician(s) and other objective evidence to show you are safe to fly. Those are hard to fake.
How Likely is it that the FAA will Catch You?
Many pilots get away with submitting false information on their MedXPress applications. Some do it by mistake. Some justify white lies by rationalizing they would just be wasting everyone’s time and effort by disclosing minor issues. In our experience, only a small minority of pilots actually try to maliciously conceal significant active medical problems. The simple fact is that the FAA generally trusts pilots. They rely on that trust and the deterrence provided by the severe penalties at their disposal to preserve the integrity of the medical certification process. Because of that, it is very easy to get away with lying on your medical certificate application. If your AME does not spot anything on your physical exam, you have a clean driving record and you have never served in the military, chances are that the FAA will not question the information you submit in MedXPress.
Begin with the End in Mind
Regardless of whether or not you would get caught, a better question to ask is why would you try to get away with it? Most pilots I know plan to fly for longer than it takes one or two medical certificates to expire. There is a good chance you can hide some minor medical problems or even some major ones that you recovered from years ago. But, sooner or later, most pilots will develop a medical condition that they cannot hide. When that happens, your whole medical history will come under review. If you ever need to submit medical records to the FAA, they will review everything you give them. Many pilots have waited months or years for their medical certificates because each new record they provide to justify their medical certificate eligibility reveals another ailment they did not disclose before.
Take the High Road
Telling the truth in MedXPress is clearly the right thing to do, but that is not what this article is about. From a practical standpoint, it makes the most sense. From open heart surgery and stroke to PTSD and diabetes, it is possible to qualify for an FAA medical certificate with more conditions than most pilots suspect. With a small investment of time and energy, in the beginning, it is possible to keep flying with most medical conditions as long as they are well controlled. With the right preparation, you can navigate the process efficiently. Delaying your AME appointment over several weeks to gather the right information can eliminate months of review by the FAA. It can also ensure you keep flying for years to come.
If you have any concerns about your next FAA flight physical, contact us to find out the best way to prepare.