FAA: Not All Medications Are Approved For Flying
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the general aviation (GA) community’s national #FlySafe campaign helps educate GA pilots about the best practices to calculate and predict aircraft performance and to operate within established aircraft limitations.
A Loss of Control (LOC) accident involves an unintended departure of an aircraft from controlled flight. LOC can happen when the aircraft enters a flight regime that is outside its normal flight envelope and quickly develops into a stall or spin. It can introduce an element of surprise for the pilot.
Medications and Flight
Medicine, whether it’s prescribed or bought over-the-counter, is designed to solve a problem. However, medicine may create real hazards for pilots even if used correctly. Some drugs can compromise your ability to control the aircraft. These meds can affect your ability to think clearly and make critical decisions quickly and accurately.
The FAA is concerned with a medication’s side effects in you as well as whether your underlying medical condition allows you to be fit for flight. Level with your doctor, and your Aviation Medical Examiner (AME), and tell him or her about your condition. He or she may be able to treat you in a way that will keep you safe, and in the cockpit.
Don’t Be “That Pilot”
A pilot may decide that he or she can control a medicine’s effects on the body, and decide to fly anyway. Since a medicine’s effects can be exaggerated at higher altitudes, that plan could be disastrous. Another pilot may choose to withhold information, and not tell his or her AME, that he or he has a condition that could compromise safety. Not only could the undisclosed condition endanger the airman, but the treatment could also create problems through drugs that limit peak performance in the cockpit.
You must ensure you are fit for flight, and that means being alert, ready, and free from any limiting medications. You must be honest with your AME and tell him or her about any medical conditions you may have, and any medications you are taking. In some cases, he or she can recommend alternative treatment options that could keep you in the air.
Common Meds to Watch For
The FAA is often asked for a list of “approved medications,” but the FAA does not publish such a list. The reason is that medications change frequently, and while the FAA may approve medications for some diagnoses, those same medications are not approved for others.
What types of side effects should you look out for in medications? One of the most common side effects is drowsiness, which you’ll often see in antihistamines, a medication used to control allergies. These meds can have powerful sedating effects. In fact, one of them (Benadryl) is often used as a sedative. The NTSB has found that sedating antihistamines are the most common medications found in the bodies of pilots killed in accidents.
The second most common sedating drugs are cardiovascular drugs, which include medications for high blood pressure. Some less common drugs include those used to treat diarrhea, seizures, smoking addiction, and depression. Avoid opioids at all times. If you are taking any of these drugs, work with your doctor and/or AME to see if you can find an alternative.
Don’t fly while using a medication with which you’ve previously experienced a negative side effect. If you are using an FAA-approved medication for the first time, see how it affects you before taking flight. Wait 48 hours after taking it and see if you are fit for flight.