FAA delay to let diabetic pilots fly commercial has advocates ‘concerned’

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There is mounting frustration among insulin-treated diabetic pilots, and the American Diabetes Association, which is “concerned” over years of delays by the Federal Aviation Administration preventing qualified pilots from flying commercial planes.  

“It’s too extreme,” said Bryan Stone, a private flight instructor who flew for the Air Force and the FBI until he developed type 1 diabetes in 2009. “It’s an overabundance of caution at this point. It’s unnecessary and it’s discriminatory.”

That diagnosis has traditionally been “a death nail for anybody who wants to be a pilot,” Stone said. The FAA, once concerned over pilots becoming incapacitated due to low blood sugar, announced in 2015 it would consider applications on a case-by-case basis.

Five years later not one application for a special issuance medical certificate from an insulin-treated diabetic pilot has been approved despite a pilot shortage and advancements in medical technology.  

“It’s a no-brainer,” Stone said. “I have more concerns with a  co-pilot choking on a cup of water or a pastry then I would sitting next to a type 1 [diabetic].”

Stone applied for an FAA special issuance medical in 2015, which would have allowed him to fly commercial. He says he never heard back. Last November, the FAA issued a new protocol stating insulin-treated diabetics can pilot commercial planes.

DIABETIC PILOTS WAITING ON FAA TO ALLOW THEM TO FLY

Stone applied, again, on Nov. 12, 2019, five days after the protocol was issued. The FAA said it is “working toward” processing applications in 90 days. More than three months later Stone and other diabetic pilots tell FOX 46 they have received only silence from the FAA.

“It’s frustrating because it’s just like it was five years ago,” said Stone. “Are they really serious about it? You have to question it.”

The FAA said it is processing 10 “new” applications for special medical certificates from insulin-treated diabetics – which are needed to fly commercially – that were received after the new protocol was issued on Nov. 7.  Anyone who applied before that date will likely have to apply again.

The FAA would not say how many pilots in total are affected.

The American Diabetes Association, however, estimates that “hundreds” of qualified pilots, who are diabetic and wish to fly commercially, are still grounded due to the FAA delays.

“Many of these folks have been waiting for five years plus 90 days,” said Sarah Fech-Baughman with the American Diabetes Association. “That’s a very long time when you’re talking about someone who has lost their career.”

“People have a right to receive an adjudication on the applications that they make in a timely fashion,” Fech-Baughman added. “Especially, when something like their livelihood is at stake.”

LINK: Diabetes Protocol for Applicants Seeking To Exercise Airline Transport

FAA Statement

The FAA has received around 10 new applications since we posted the Federal Register Notice about the new policy. The applications are under active consideration.

The review time for any medical certification case depends on when the pilot provides all information needed to make a determination.  Presuming the airman only has ITDM and no other significant conditions or complications, we are working toward 90 days for initial consideration of a “special issuance” medical certificate. The protocol is new – it has been just 90 days since it was effective on November 7. We are reviewing the first cases and we will have a better estimate of turn-around time for initial review soon.

The duration of special issuance medical certificates is either 6 months or 12 months. For pilots over age 40, their “regular” or “unrestricted” medical certificates are valid only for 6 months for first-class pilot duties.  Therefore, any ITDM pilots over age 40 will have their special issuance medical certificates time limited to 6 months. Overall, the time-limitation for a medical certificate is made on a case-by-case basis. The certificate is valid when the FAA issues it, not when the airman applies. For example, the agency issued the certificate today, it’s good for six months from today.” 

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