The Civil Aerospace Medical Institute: A National Resource

Editorial, by Jon L. Jordan, MD, JD

In my travels to the Aviation Medical Examiner seminars, and even in meetings with national and international governmental leaders, it has become obvious that there is little understanding of the mission and importance to aviation safety of the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute. This was exemplified by the title of a very positive article published in a recent issue of Air Line Pilot that referred to the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute as the "FAA's Best Kept Secret." I am, therefore, devoting my column to a discussion of the Institute's mission and functions.

The Civil Aerospace Medical Institute is a national resource, a model for similar organizations in countries around the world, and a significant contributor to the human side of civil aviation safety. The National Transportation Safety Board, for instance, has made numerous recommendations requiring aviation safety support from the Institute's operations and research program.

As background information, the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, better known as CAMI, was created 35 years ago in response to a recognized need in the aviation industry for scientific research related to aviation safety factors. From this initial singular thrust, the Institute evolved to include its present structure comprising four major programs: airman medical certification, aeromedical education, research, and occupational health. Like virtually all of the Federal Aviation Administration's functions, the work accomplished at the Institute addresses the safety concerns of the general public and of the aviation industry.

The major aviation safety functions performed at CAMI include:

Airman Medical Certification
This mandated program protects the public safety by helping to ensure that pilots are medically fit to fly. The Civil Aerospace Medical Institute administers the national program for the medical certification of airmen who are required to meet medical standards. To keep aviation safe, medical standards are determined and maintained for the nation's pilots.

No other governmental entity assures there are ongoing minimum health standards of the nation's 650,000 civil airmen, including 68,000 airline pilots. Without this critical safety function, pilots with significant undetected medical problems could operate civil aircraft, thereby placing themselves, their passengers, and others at risk.

Aeromedical Education
Next to airman medical certification activities, CAMI may be best known for its quality programs in aeromedical education. CAMI contributes directly to aviation safety through a program that:

  • Trains all FAA-designated AMEs - 6,265 worldwide. To properly perform the physical examinations of the US civil aviation pilot population, AMEs must have detailed knowledge and under-standing of the FAA medical certification standards, regulations, policies, and procedures.
  • Maintains quality standards for AME selection, training, and performance to ensure that only the best AMEs are retained in the program.
  • Provides safety training relating to the physiology of flight, global survival, high altitude indoctrination, and cabin safety for pilots, flight attendants, and others.
  • Develops and distributes safety information to the civil aviation community.
The research work of the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute directly relates to passenger safety and the safe performance of airmen, including general aviation pilots, airline pilots, air traffic controllers, and other aviation safety-related workers. Those who fly are also included in research studies to improve their safety in the air. Areas of aeromedical research include:

Human Factors. An integrated program of field and laboratory performance research by specialists in organizational and human factors aspects of aviation work environments. Research includes human performance under various conditions of impairment, human error analysis and remediation, agency work force optimization, training analysis and career enhancement, impact of advanced automation systems on operator requirements and performance, the psychophysiological aspects of workload and work scheduling on job proficiency and safety in aviation-related human/machine systems. Also included are the effects of workload, stress, and fatigue of air traffic controllers, the relationships of various indices of airman performance to age, and the development of selection and training methods.

Aeromedical Research. This program investigates the biomedical, bioengineering, chemical, and clinical aspects of civil aviation safety. Multiple in-house specialty areas are structured to address either the most frequently recurring or the most critical issues within civil aviation.

The three main areas of research relate to toxicology and accident investigation, aviation physiology, and protection and survival. The researchers examine a variety of problems, including the assessment of air carrier passenger seat design, the safety of child restraint devices, combustion toxicology, and evacuation procedures from downed aircraft.

To carry out its research mission, and other activities, CAMI's specialized facilities include:

  • a hypobaric test chamber
  • protective breathing equipment and water survival test laboratories
  • a dynamic impact test facility an aircraft evacuation simulator a spatial disorientation laboratory
  • a reconfigurable general aviation simple/complex aircraft flight simulator
  • double-wall sound booths for auditory/communications research
  • computerized radar simulation equipment for assessing air traffic control procedures
Occupational Health
The occupational health function operates a clinic and environmental health services in support of the FAA Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center. It is also the FAA's consultative source for occupational and environmental medicine and reviews all medical appeals of agency employees serving in positions covered by medical standards.

The Office of Aerospace Medicine, largely through the efforts of the Institute, has become a world leader in advancing aviation medicine. The Civil Aerospace Medical Institute is more than a national resource. We believe it is a key to the future of aviation safety.