The Federal Air Surgeon's Column
Editorial, by Jon L. Jordan, MD, JD
Possibly in the entire history of the conduct of the airman medical certification program no one decision has created more controversy than that concerning Mr. Robert A. (Bob) Hoover.
Accusations about the revocation of Mr. Hoover's medical certificate have ranged from allegations of a personal vendetta by agency Flight Standards inspectors to an agency bias against aging pilots. Many articles in various aviation publications have contained inaccurate and misleading information, designed, I believe, to inflame the reader and to stir controversy. The agency has remained silent on these allegations for two principal reasons: first,to assure non-interference with the legal process as the case wended its way through the judicial system, and second, to preserve, in so far as possible, Mr. Hoover's rights to privacy. A continued "tight lipped" policy no longer appears necessary since the judicial process has ended and many of the medical factors related to the disqualification decision are a matter of public record.
My finding that Mr. Hoover did not meet the medical standards, and the subsequent revocation of his medical certificate, was based on the diagnosis of a significant cognitive deficit and evidence of cerebral pathology. While reports from Flight Standards inspectors regarding sub-par performance at an airshow led to the special medical evaluation of Mr. Hoover, it was the medical evidence that resulted in his disqualification. The medical determination was made in consultation with nationally recognized experts in aerospace medicine, neurology, neuropsychology, and psychiatry.
The pressures to find Mr. Hoover qualified were significant, but with the medical evidence available, it was clear that to do so would place the public - and Mr. Hoover - at an unacceptable risk. Following the revocation, the matter of Mr. Hoover's eligibility for certification was pursued through the review process provided by the National Transportation Safety Board and in the Federal courts. The agency's action in revoking the certificate, while reversed by the NTSB's Administrative Law Judge, was affirmed in a clearly written and strongly worded decision by the Full Board. That decision was subsequently affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The United States Court refused to hear a further appeal.
Following conclusion of the legal proceedings, Mr. Hoover requested reconsideration. In view of the length of time since his last evaluations, I agreed to consider the special issuance of a medical certificate, to be based on the results of a new assessment. Repeat studies revealed some unexpected normalizing changes in his clinical condition.
In view of this new information, I concluded that Mr. Hoover could be issued a second-class medical certificate that, although limited and conditioned on comprehensive follow-up evaluations by a physician of our choosing, would allow him to perform in airshows.
The opportunity for reconsideration that was afforded Mr. Hoover is the opportunity that is afforded to any airman who seeks medical certification. A decision once made is not considered ever binding if there is a change in circumstances.
While it is regrettable that Mr. Hoover's disqualification created so much controversy, I continue to firmly believe that the original decision was appropriate, given the clinical evidence. In addition, however, I also believe that the final outcome graphically demonstrates the fairness of the certification system and the protection provided airmen by the process we use in applying our certification standards.