For tandem instructors, a periodic visit to their aviation medical examiners (AMEs) to renew their Federal Aviation Administration Third-Class Medical Certificates is a ritual that goes hand and hand with the privilege of taking tandem students on skydives. It is important that instructors take this visit seriously and use care when filling out applications. It is also imperative to answer the questions on the form completely honestly.
Sometimes instructors get careless and accidentally omit medical information that the FAA requires them to include. If this happens, work with your AME to produce a letter of explanation and send it, along with supporting documentation, to the FAA. You’ll want to do this as promptly as possible to clear up the situation before it gets out of hand.
Intentional falsification is an entirely different story. Although not often publicized, the U.S. Department of Justice has handed down indictments against pilots for intentionally falsifying statements or information when applying for a medical certificate and can impose severe penalties on those individuals. Every applicant can find the penalties on the FAA Medical Application Form 8500-8: “Whoever knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact, or who makes false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation, or entry, may be fined up to $250,000 or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.”
It should come as no surprise that USPA also takes the falsification of a medical certificate as a grave offense, one that historically will result in the revocation of membership and ratings. Although it’s possible to get membership reinstated by petitioning the board of directors, an instructor would need to attend a new rating course to re-earn their rating.
Recently, USPA revoked a jumper’s membership and tandem rating because he had falsified his medical certificate. This instructor had received a conviction for driving under the influence and assumed that the only way he could continue to work as a tandem instructor was to forge the necessary medical certificate. This led to far greater consequences than just following established procedures.
A conviction for DUI or possession of an illegal substance does not necessarily mean the end of an instructor’s skydiving career. Certificate holders must report the conviction to the FAA, and yes, the FAA will suspend the certificate and require additional documentation before reinstatement. However, in the case of a DUI, this process can take as little as 60 days. And the FAA has settled cases involving illegal substances in as little as 180 days. Repeat offenses can take longer, but again, they can be resolved.
The moral here is that if you make a mistake, own up to it. That’s the first step to fixing it. You may need to put your career on pause, but falsifying the certificate may end your career. Don’t think an offense won’t come to light, because the FAA does check driving records and USPA does verify medical certificates with the FAA database.
If you have questions about issues involving your medical certificate, contact your AME. If your case involves multiple offenses, you should get a HIMS (Human Intervention Motivation Study) AME; they receive training in evaluating substance- and alcohol-related conditions. A HIMS AME can provide sponsorship and monitoring for such conditions when required by the FAA for medical certification purposes.
Jumpers can find more information about how DUIs or other infractions may affect their medicals in the Drug and Alcohol Program section at faa.gov/pilots/medical. If you feel lost, contact USPA, and we can point you in the right direction. If you are willing to invest the time, seldom is there an issue you cannot resolve.
Ron Bell | D-26863
USPA Director of Safety and Training