FAA Mental Standards

A pilot’s medical health is a critical factor in their ability to operate a plane safely. Therefore, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has strict mental standards that all pilots must meet to obtain their medical certification. Recently, changes to the mental standards were recommended to improve them even more.

What Are the Current Mental Standards for Pilots in the United States?

The mental standards for a first-class airman are outlined in 14 C.F.R. §67.107. Those standards are:

The pilot cannot have a clinical diagnosis or established medical history of any of the following conditions:

  • A personality disorder severe enough to result in repeated overt acts
  • A psychosis that results in or can be reasonably expected to result in manifested hallucinations, delusions, disorganized behavior, or grossly bizarre behavior
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance dependence (exceptions exist when there is clinical evidence of recovery)
  • No substance abuse within the last two years
  • No other personality disorder, mental condition, or neurosis that a Federal Air Surgeon believes makes the pilot unable to perform their duties safely

If any of the above conditions exist, the pilot may be denied medical clearance or have their application deferred by an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME).

The current medical standards for second-class and third-class airmen are outlined in 14 C.F.R. §67.207 and §67.307, respectively.

FAA Psychiatric Evaluations for Aviation Medical Certifications

Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs) conduct psychiatric evaluations for medical certification. The FAA provides guidelines for psychiatric evaluations. These include:

  • A psychiatrist must conduct psychiatric evaluations. They must be board-certified by the American Board of Osteopathic Neurology and Psychiatry or the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.
  • It is recommended that the psychiatrist understands aviation standards or has experience in aerospace psychiatry.
  • The FAA may require the psychiatrist to have additional forensic or addiction psychiatry qualifications based on the pilot.
  • The evaluation must include reviewing all available medical and academic records, conducting a thorough clinical interview with the pilot, and performing a mental status examination.
  • The psychiatrist must include an integrated summary of their findings, including a diagnostic statement, recommendations for treatment or monitoring if applicable, and the psychiatrist’s opinion regarding the airman’s mental status.

You should make your medical records available to the psychiatrist before the evaluation. Medical records include, but are not limited to, all prior substance-related psychiatric hospitalizations, treatment, or observations that have not been submitted to the FAA before the current psychiatric evaluation.

You should also submit a complete copy of your agency medical records, which you can request by submitting a Request for Airman Records.

Recommendations for Changes to the Guidelines for a Psychiatric Evaluation for an Aviation Medical Certification

On February 7, 2024, a group of bipartisan Congress members sent a letter to the FAA Administrator. The letter expressed concerns about the current mental health policies for aviation professionals. The letter included several key points, including:

  • Delays in medical clearances
  • Outdated mental health standards
  • The need for the FAA to restructure its aeromedical regulations, standards, guidelines, and policies concerning the mental health of pilots.

On April 1, 2024, the Mental Health & Aviation Medical Clearance Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) issued a report with recommendations for the FAA on how to improve the mental health guidelines. Critical areas the ARC’s report addresses include:

  • Initiatives for education and awareness of mental health for pilots to reduce the stigma associated with mental health conditions and improve the safety culture in the aviation industry.
  • Expand peer support programs to promote a supportive environment for discussing and managing mental health issues.
  • Enhancing the aeromedical screening process to ensure the process is proportionate and relevant to the actual risks involved.
  • Create safe and non-punitive procedures for disclosing mental health issues for controllers and pilots to remove the fear of negative repercussions.

The recommendations are designed to achieve a better process for identifying and dealing with mental health issues of aviation professionals while promoting a transparent process that builds trust. The ARC also seeks to improve the options available to pilots and other aviation professionals so that they receive education about mental health and know where they can seek help if they have a problem.

What Happens if I Fail My Psychiatric Evaluation for My Aviation Medical Certification?

Pilots may worry that the new FFA guidelines and mental health standards may make it more difficult to obtain their medical certification. Some aviation professionals may be required to have mental health evaluations every six months to maintain their mental health clearance.

The FAA requires pilots to disclose mental health disorders, including some types of personality disorders, bipolar disorder, and psychosis. The FAA can revoke a pilot’s medical certification if it becomes aware of specific mental health issues. Without a medical certificate, a pilot cannot fly.

Mental health is just one of many medical standards that pilots must meet to obtain a medical certification. Other areas include, but are not limited to:

In addition to meeting the minimum standards, specific medical conditions prevent pilots from receiving medical certification. FAA doctors cannot issue a medical certificate unless there are grounds for a special issuance authorization. The doctor must find that the condition is limited to a single medical event instead of an ongoing disqualifying history of the condition.

If your medical certification is denied, you have 30 days to file an appeal with the FAA. It is in your best interest to have an attorney help you develop an appeal to give you the best chance of obtaining your medical certification to fly. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) conducts a hearing on the appeal. The FAA or the applicant can appeal the ALJ’s decision to the entire board.

Get Help With Your FAA Medical Certification Appeal From Experienced Aviation Attorneys

Our nationwide aviation lawyers have considerable experience in this area of the law. If you are dealing with issues related to your medical certification, you need the pilot lawyers at The Ison Law Firm on your side. Contact our law offices at 855-322-1215 for a case review with an FAA aviation attorney to learn how we can help you get or keep your medical certification.