The FAA is investigating approximately 4,800 U.S. pilots for “falsifying their medical records to conceal…mental health disorders and other serious conditions that could make them unfit to fly.” Around 600 hold commercial airline pilot licenses, while the rest fly cargo, private, and other aircraft.
- These are military veterans collecting disability benefits “that could bar them from the cockpit.”
- Yet they have reported to the FAA “that they are healthy enough to fly,” failing to report these benefits as required.
The FAA has known about this for over two years, but has concealed them from the public.
Veterans Affairs investigators discovered the inconsistencies more than two years ago by cross-checking federal databases, but the FAA has kept many details of the case a secret from the public just as they hid that there were 300 near collisions in a year.
The FAA closed half of the cases of “incorrect or false information [submitted] as part of their medical applications.” Only 60 pilots deemed to pose “a clear danger to aviation safety” have been temporarily grounded.
Federal contracting records obtained by The Washington Post show the FAA’s Office of Aerospace Medicine allotted $3.6 million starting last year to hire medical experts and other staff to reexamine certification records for 5,000 pilots who pose “potential risks to the flying public.”
…In many of the cases closed by the FAA, pilots have been ordered to correct their records and take new health exams; some have been temporarily grounded while the results are reviewed, according to Lehner, as well as pilots and their attorneys. Aviation authorities also learned that some pilots did not disclose their VA disability benefits because FAA-contracted physicians advised them to withhold the information, officials said.
It may be that many pilots are being allowed to continue flying, despite the falsehoods, because it’s possible to claim benefits for almost anything, recognizing that getting paid for a disability doesn’t actually mean having one (“about 6 million veterans will receive $132 billion in compensation this fiscal year”). Some pilots may be referred to the Justice Department for benefits fraud.
Notably “[p]ilot medical issues were the cause of 9 percent of fatal aviation accidents during a 10-year period from 2012 to 2022” and the Germanwings crash looms large.
I’d note that the Air Line Pilots Association promotes a 1,500 hour rule as the linchpin of safety. These pilots qualify to fly under that rule. And in fact military veteran pilots come in under reduced 750 hours requirements. Maybe those invited into the guild aren’t actually the safest possible pilots? Maybe the Biden administration doesn’t need to extend ALPA’s preferred commercial pilot eligibility rules in the name of safety despite a lack of data that it supports safety?
As for ALPA, they’ve been “lobbying authorities to allow aviators to resubmit their medical applications without penalty for failing to disclose they were collecting disability benefits.”
It is a real challenge that many medical conditions aren’t going to be obvious in a medical exam, and that you want pilots with problems to be able to speak up. That’s doubly so when they’re mental problems or problems with alcohol and drugs. (Maybe not so much if it’s benefits fraud.) But speaking up and seeking help creates the risk of being sidelined, despite programs designed to encourage them to do so.
(HT: Christian and Paul H)