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Medications and the FAA

Now that spring is upon us and it’s allergy season, have you given much thought to what medications you are going to take to combat pollen — especially if you plan to fly in the next few days?

This might be a good time to take a look at the FAA’s medical web site. You can access this site through the AOPA website by searching for the Medications Database. I think that you might be surprised at the time required between taking certain medications and when you’re allowed to light the fires and blast off from your favorite airport. You will not find the list in the FARs, but you can find the following:

FAR 61.53 prohibits a person from acting as pilot in command or as a required pilot flight crew member while that person 1) “knows or has reason to know of any medical condition that would make the person unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate necessary for the pilot operation” or, 2) “Is taking medication or receiving other treatment for a medical condition that results in the person being unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate necessary for the pilot operation.”

FAR 91.17 states that no person may act or attempt to act as a pilot crew member of a civil aircraft while using any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety.But the good news is that if you are in training and you are taking a banned medication you can still fly with an instructor and log the time as pilot-in-command.

In this scenario, the instructor is acting as pilot-in-command. This allows passenger carrying, filing IFR, flying in IMC, and your handling of flight controls even though you are (temporarily) without a medical according to FAR 91.17. These are two separate issues: first, somebody needs to act as PIC (the instructor). He can log PIC because he is conducting instruction (again, FAR 61.51). If it’s a flight conducted under IFR, he would file the fight plan and be responsible as PIC for purpose of operating in the IFR system. Secondly, the person receiving instruction (you) also can log PIC as sole manipulator of flight controls according to FAR 61.51. Incidentally, it does not matter whether it’s day, night, IMC, or on an IFR flight plan. The person receiving instruction as indicated above could also log PIC cross-country to apply toward an instrument rating if the flight meets the requirements of FAR 61.1 (definition of cross-country).

Just to give a couple of examples of medication wait times, the FAA requires a wait time of 60 hours if you have taken a dose of NyQuil. Any antihistamine will require a wait time of 12 hours. Are you nervous about an upcoming flight and can’t sleep? Taking any kind of sleep aid will give you a wait time of 24 hours, so legally you won’t be able to take the flight anyhow.

Now we all know that some pilots break these rules and that is totally up to the individual, but part of flying as the Pilot-in-Command is making good aero medical decisions. I will leave the choice up to you but remember that if you have an accident, and I hope you never do, you will have to answer to the FAA.