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Fly Safe: Prevent Loss of Control Accidents

Fly Safe: Prevent Loss of Control AccidentsSeptember 1- The FAA and general aviation (GA) groups’ #Fly Safe national safety campaign aims to educate the GA community on how to prevent Loss of Control (LOC) accidents this flying season.

What is Loss of Control (LOC)?
A Loss of Control (LOC) accident involves an unintended departure of an aircraft from controlled flight. LOC can happen because the aircraft enters a flight regime that is outside its normal flight envelope and may quickly develop into a stall or spin. It can introduce an element of surprise for the pilot. Contributing factors may include: poor judgment/aeronautical decision making, failure to recognize an aerodynamic stall or spin and execute corrective action, intentional regulatory non-compliance, low pilot time in aircraft make and model, lack of piloting ability, failure to maintain airspeed, failure to follow procedure, pilot inexperience and proficiency, or the use of over-the-counter drugs that impact pilot performance.

Current topic: Medications and pilots

What is the big deal about taking medication when you fly?
As a pilot, you understand that illicit drugs always impair human performance. Do you fully understand the impact prescription and over the counter (OTC) medications have on your flying capabilities?

Did you know?
Some medications may compromise a pilot’s ability to control the aircraft and/or adversely affect his or her judgment and decision-making ability. Following a GA accident, it may be difficult to determine the extent to which a drug may have impaired a pilot’s ability to fly safely. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) may not cite drug or medication use as a causal factor in many fatal accidents, but a 2011 FAA study of toxicology samples of 1,353 deceased pilots indicated the presence of some sort of drug or medication in 570 (42%) of the pilots. Most of the pilots had prescription or OTC medications in their system. Antihistamines – especially diphenhydramine – were the most common medications found. More facts:

  • Some medications carry very specific warnings against operating machinery or motor vehicles or performing tasks requiring alertness. Flying is certainly included, even in a glider or hot-air balloon. 
  • Healthcare providers may prescribe medications that could compromise a pilot’s abilities – especially if the doctor is unaware that the patient is a pilot.
  • Combinations of prescription and OTC medications can be particularly dangerous.  Pilots should consult their Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) or Regional Flight Surgeon before taking a combination of medications. 
  • AMEs and FAA physicians are trained to advise pilots on the negative and positive effects of drugs with respect to aviation.

Tips for pilots

  • Consult your AME before flying while using prescription and/or OTC medications.
  • Make sure your AME knows about all the drugs you take and the medical conditions requiring their use.
  • Let your prescribing doctor know that you are a pilot.
  • Read the label before you medicate and fly.
  • Ask about adverse effects associated with drug combinations.
  • Be aware that the effects of sleep aids may persist for several days.
  • Don’t take OTC medications for longer than the recommended time. Doing so may mask symptoms of a serious underlying medical condition.
  • The general rule about taking medications that preclude flying is to wait until five times the dosage interval has passed. So, if you take a medication at six hour intervals, you should wait at least 30 hours before flying.
  • In between doctor visits, self-assess your condition before each flight. Ground yourself when you’re not fit to fly.

Message from FAA Deputy Administrator Mike Whitaker:
The FAA and industry are working together to prevent Loss of Control accidents and save lives. You can help make a difference by joining our Fly Safe campaign! Each month on we’re providing pilots with a Loss of Control solution developed by the team of experts. They have studied the data and developed solutions – some of which are already reducing risk. We hope you will join us in this effort, and spread the word. Follow #FlySafe on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I know that we can reduce these accidents by working together as a community.

Did you know?

  • Approximately 450 people are killed each year in GA accidents.
  • Loss of Control is the number one cause of these accidents.
  • Loss of Control happens in all phases of flight. It can happen anywhere and at any time.
  • There is one fatal accident involving LOC every four days.

Learn more 

FAA brochure Medications and Flying.

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) safety spotlight: understanding basic flight physiology and the effects of aging, illness, and medications. The spotlight includes online courses, quizzes, and publications.

Aeromedical Advisory: Are You Safe? FAA Safety Briefing, September/October 2014, page 7.

Aeromedical Advisory: Seasons of Discontent, FAA Safety Briefing, July/August 2014, page 5.

Aeromedical Advisory: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (or maybe not), FAA Safety Briefing, November/December 2014, page 7.

AMTs vs. OTCs: Understanding the Risk When Self-Medicating, FAA Safety Briefing, January/February 2013, page 31.

From FDA to FAA: How the FAA Evaluates Drugs for Aeromedical Use, FAA Safety Briefing, January/February 2013, page 28.

Flying Healthy: A Hazard IS Your Health, FAA Safety Briefing, January/February 2013, page 33.

The website has Notices, FAAST Blasts, online courses, webinars and more on key general aviation safety topics.

Check out the 2015 GA Safety Enhancements (SEs) fact sheets on the main FAA Safety Briefing website, including Flight Risk Assessment Tools.

The WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program helps pilots build an educational curriculum suitable for their unique flight requirements.  It is based on the premise that pilots who maintain currency and proficiency in the basics of flight will enjoy a safer and more stress-free flying experience.

The Fly Safe campaign partners are: Air Bonanza Society (ABS) Air Safety Foundation, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), FAA Air Transportation Center for Excellence (COE) for General Aviation, FAASTeam, GA Joint Steering Committee, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), Lancair Owners and Builders Organization (LOBO), 1800wxbrief/Lockheed Martin, National Air Transportation Association (NATA), National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI), National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA), Soaring Society of America (SSA), Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE), and the U.S. Parachute Association (USPA).

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