World Leadership in Aviation Medicine

Editorial, by Jon L. Jordan, MD, JD

Not long ago, I was approached by one of our Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs) who is a conscientious reader of the Federal Air Surgeon's Medical Bulletin. He commented on the fairly numerous articles that have appeared in the Bulletin regarding our various international activities. The AME expressed some concern about this extensive involvement and suggested that our energies might be better spent in concentrating, here at home, on the education of our AMEs.

I was able to explain, to the satisfaction of the AME, the basis for our international efforts. It struck me, however, that others might also wonder why we place a high priority on these activities away from home.

Maintenance of world leadership in aviation has been an objective of the Federal Aviation Administration for years. While many may think that economics are the driving force behind this objective, I think it is important to point out that worldwide safety for the flying public is the principal motive. With the rapid worldwide growth of travel by air, American citizens frequently find themselves dependent upon foreign air carriers, foreign aviation systems, and foreign-manufactured aircraft to reach their final destinations. The same is true of citizens of foreign countries who find their travel dependent upon U.S. air carriers, systems, and aircraft.

The principal objective of our international exchanges, therefore, is to arrive at a "seamless," high level of safety for international air travel. By providing information to foreign countries on our extensive experience in the development of aeromedical standards, airman medical certification, aviation physiology, and accident investigation (just to name a few), we have improved the aeromedical expertise in numerous countries. In many of those countries, elements of how we, in the U.S., do business have been adopted as national standards. We believe this has improved the level of safety for persons using those aviation systems. In addition, through our exchanges with the medical entities of many of these countries, we have received ideas for beneficial changes in our own aeromedical practices here in the U.S.

While these international exchanges do consume valuable staff time, in most instances travel costs have been borne by the host country. This has been true for those recent exchanges with Central and South American Countries, as well as with the People's Republic of China. Considering future budget constraints, it is likely that a large measure of our international educational activities will continue to be dependent upon the availability of resources from outside our program.

All in all, I believe our international commitments have succeeded in achieving our safety goals. Much has yet to be done, however, and we will continue to look for opportunities to share our aeromedical expertise and extensive experience with those countries that have an interest and need.