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, used incorrectly, medicine may create real hazards for pilots. 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.
For additional information go to: https://www.faa.gov/pilots/safety/pilotsafetybrochures/media/Meds_brochure.pdf
What if I Have a Medical Condition?
If you have a condition that would disqualify or prevent you from flying, talk to your doctor and/or AME. See if any alternatives are available that will keep you safe.
Message from Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell:
The FAA and industry are working together to prevent Loss of Control (LOC) accidents and save lives. You can help make a difference by joining our #FlySafe campaign. Every month on FAA.gov, we provide pilots with Loss of Control solutions developed by a team of experts — some of which are already reducing risk. I 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.
More about Loss of Control:
Contributing factors may include:
- Poor judgment or aeronautical decision making
- Failure to recognize an aerodynamic stall or spin and execute corrective action
- Intentional failure to comply with regulations
- Failure to maintain airspeed
- Failure to follow procedure
- Pilot inexperience and proficiency
- Use of prohibited or over-the-counter drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol
Did you know?
- From October 2016 through September 2017, 247 people died in 209 general aviation accidents.
- Loss of Control was 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 Loss of Control every four days.
This FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) Fact Sheet has more information about Pilots and Medications.
Learn more about the possible side effects of common allergy medications in this AOPA bulletin.
This Skybrary article discusses the effects of drugs and alcohol on pilot performance.
Curious about FAA regulations (Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations)? It’s a good idea to stay on top of them. You can find current FAA regulations on this website.
The FAASafety.gov website has Notices, FAAST Blasts, online courses, webinars, and more on key general aviation safety topics.
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 General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) is comprised of government and industry experts who work together to use data to identify risk, pinpoint trends through root cause analysis, and develop safety strategies to reduce the risk of GA accidents. The GAJSC combines the expertise of many key decision makers in the FAA, several government agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and stakeholder groups. Industry participants include the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Air Transportation Association, National Association of Flight Instructors, Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, and the aviation insurance industry. The National Transportation Safety Board and the European Aviation Safety Agency participate as observers.