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Fact Sheet – Aerospace Medicine and Safety

For Immediate Release

August 28, 2018
Contact: Les Dorr
Phone: 202-267-3883


The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Office of Aerospace Medicine contributes directly to the Agency’s safety mission and shares medical knowledge and scientific information with domestic and international aviation communities.

Aerospace Medicine is part of the FAA’s Office of Aviation Safety and is led by Federal Air SurgeonMichael A. Berry, M.D., M.S. The Aerospace Medical staff is comprised of physicians, research scientists, nurses, program analysts, and legal instruments examiners. The Aerospace Medical staff oversees more than 2,800 Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs) who are private physicians trained by the Educational Division of Aerospace Medicine. These AMEs perform FAA airman medical examinations and issue FAA airman medical certificates when appropriate. They also examine Air Traffic Control Specialists (ATCS), as well as ATCS applicants, who apply to work for the FAA.

Aerospace Medicine’s primary areas of responsibility include:

  • medical certification of airmen,
  • administration of the aviation industry drug and alcohol testing programs,
  • medical clearance of on-board air traffic control specialists, and applicant processing,
  • drug and alcohol testing of FAA employees,
  • aerospace medical and human factors research, and
  • aerospace medical education. 

What is “Aerospace Medicine?”
Aerospace medicine is a multidisciplinary specialty of medicine concerned with the determination and maintenance of the health, safety, and performance of those who work and fly in the nation’s airspace.

How the FAA’s Office of Aerospace Medicine Oversees Safety
Since World War I, aerospace medicine physicians have helped keep military, civil, and space flights safe by ensuring pilots are fit to fly. All segments of aviation have benefitted from aerospace medical standards, pilot examinations, and the work of flight surgeons.

Today, the Office of Aerospace Medicine contributes to our nation’s impressive safety record with a broad range of medical programs and services that affect aviation communities worldwide. The office aims to safely and efficiently certify airmen and safety-related individuals who must meet FAA medical standards.

Office of Aerospace Medicine Services
The mission of the Office of Aerospace Medicine is to keep our skies safe by making sure our nation’s 642,542 active pilots, mechanics, and the FAA’s 15,000air traffic controllers are fit to fly and work.

FAA physicians, many of whom are pilots, are certified by their respective Specialty Boards under the American Board of Medical Specialties. These specialty areas are:

  • Aerospace medicine
  • Occupational medicine
  • Ophthalmology
  • Psychiatry
  • Radiology
  • Ear, Nose and Throat–Neurotology
  • General surgery
  • Internal medicine
  • Family Practice
  • Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 

What’s new?
Since May 1, 2017, general aviation pilots can fly under BasicMed, a process that lets a pilot operate an aircraft without an FAA medical certificate, provided they meet certain requirements.

Pilots may take advantage of BasicMed or opt to continue to use their FAA medical certificate. The BasicMed, process permits an individual to complete a medical education course every two years, undergo a medical examination every four years, and comply with aircraft and operating restrictions. This program and process is managed by the Flight Standards Service of the FAA.

World Class Aerospace Medical Research
The Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) at the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City is the records center for Aerospace Medicine and is the FAA’s premier scientific research facility. The research that CAMI conducts focuses on the human element in flight – pilots, flight attendants, passengers, air traffic controllers – and the entire human support system that embraces civil aviation. CAMI includes more than 200 researchers, physicians, and other medical specialists, engineers, educators, legal instrument examiners, and technicians.   

Aerospace Medicine Offices and Missions 
The Medical Specialties Division (Headquarters) and the Aerospace Medical Certification Division (located at CAMI) in concert with the Regional Medical Offices are responsible for managing the medical certification of pilots.

The Aerospace Medical Education Division educates pilots and crews on global survival and how to manage physical and psychological phenomena such as spatial disorientation, fatigue, and dehydration. It also conducts aviation medical examiner training for physicians who are being trained as AMEs from around the world. The Division:

  • Teaches thousands of safety education classes to international and military pilots and flight crews each year.
  • Produces airmen education training videos and conducts onsite classes where pilots and crews learn what to include in a survival kit, techniques for survival in open water, and how to signal for help or build a raft.
  • Brings safety courses on the road to airshows such as EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI and Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland, FL. The Portable Reduced Oxygen Training enclosure simulates hypoxia, and the General Aviation Spatial Disorientation Demonstrator gives pilots real-time experience with spatial disorientation.

The Division has some of the newest altitude chambers in the United States, along with a water survival pool, and a new night vision goggle lab.

The Aerospace Human Factors Research Division studies the human-aircraft interface. Employees use a combination of psychology, engineering, and physiology to evaluate the most effective safety modifications based on human interactions with aviation technologies.  

  • The division conducts studies, writes technical reports and briefings, and applies real-life data to maximize human performance. It ensures that human factors and technological analysis are reliable and it gathers experimental data from a variety of sources, not just in cases of overt risk. To maximize its efforts, the team also collaborates with partners such as the NASA and the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, NJ.  
  • In fiscal year 2017, researchers in the Division completed 145 research products with 20 technical reports. The research supported updates to multiple regulations and advisory circulars, as well as responses to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations.
  • The Cabin Safety Research Team simulates commercial aircraft evacuations using a Boeing 747 aircraft to assess how quickly volunteers put on inflatable vests and get into the water. The team also evaluates vest buoyancy, passenger education materials, and seat and isle width to make evacuations safe and efficient.
  • Researcher study “detect and avoid” display requirements for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), so that UAS pilots can perform the equivalent of “see and avoid” maneuvers required of manned aircraft pilots.
  • The Division helps FAA lines of business to address challenges related to human performance and how changes in technology affect human performance.

The Aerospace Medical Research Division helps ensure the health and survival of crews and the public. Employees study FAA and NTSBs databases, pilot medical records, biological specimens from accident pilots, and conduct simulations. Their research contributes to rulemaking decisions, training improvements, and changes to medical and aircraft certification processes. The division has more than 10 facilities for research and simulations.

The Bio-Aeronautical Science Research Branch, part of the Aerospace Medical Research Division, includes Forensic Toxicology, Biochemistry, Knowledge Management, Functional Genomics, and Autopsy Program teams. In addition to conducting research and reporting forensic toxicology findings from aeromedical accident investigations, the branch produces educational materials for pilots and flight attendants, scientific publications, medical and aircraft certification criteria, and workshops.

The Drug Abatement Division manages the drug and alcohol testing of safety-sensitive aviation employees to protect public safety. The division oversees the aviation industry's compliance with drug and alcohol testing laws and regulations. Employees perform on-site inspections of aviation manufacturers, provide guidance to companies, individuals, contractors, and service agents, and establish policies and procedures to increase the program's effectiveness. They also develop and implement regulations for Department of Transportation and FAA drug and alcohol testing. The Division has 48 inspectors and five investigators who oversee more than 7,000 U.S. aviation companies that employ more than 450,000 safety-sensitive employees including pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, and many other aviation fields.

Regional Medical Offices. There are nine Regional Medical Offices in the continental United States that have similar medical and administrative responsibilities to the national program. The Regional Medical Program is responsible for the implementing FAA federal laws and FAA Orders, including:

  • implementation of the Quality Management Program,
  • medical certification of air traffic control specialists,
  • surveillance of the AME designee program,
  • airman medical certification,
  • supporting the agency’s regional Administrators,
  • supporting the legal enforcement of airman litigation;
  • serving as Medical Review Officers for the internal drug testing program, and
  • supporting the FAA’s Employee Assistance Program.

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This page was originally published at: https://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=21934