Travel + Outdoors

published : 2023-09-05

FAA Investigates Thousands of Pilots Accused of Hiding Unfit Flying Conditions

Nearly 5,000 military veteran pilots allegedly concealed disability benefits for disqualifying medical conditions

FAA investigator reviewing pilot's medical records taken with a Nikon D850

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is conducting an investigation into almost 5,000 pilots who are suspected of falsifying their medical records to hide medical issues that could impact their ability to fly safely.

These pilots, who are licensed to fly in the United States and are military veterans, failed to disclose that they were receiving benefits for various disabilities that could prevent them from being cleared to fly.

The probe was initiated by Veterans Affairs investigators more than two years ago, but the FAA had not publicly disclosed many details until now.

Of the approximately 4,800 pilots investigated so far, half of the cases have been closed.

According to FAA spokesman Matthew Lehner, 60 pilots posed a clear danger to aviation safety and were grounded while their records were reviewed.

The majority of pilots with remaining open cases are currently allowed to continue operating safely pending the completion of the reconciliation process.

Veteran pilot undergoing a health screening taken with a Sony A7 III

Around 600 pilots under investigation are licensed to fly passenger airlines, while others hold commercial licenses for cargo firms and other clients.

Although pilots must undergo regular health screenings, these tests do not always cover all potential conditions, such as depression or post-traumatic stress.

Some veterans allegedly downplayed their health conditions to the FAA to maintain eligibility to fly, while simultaneously exaggerating the severity of their conditions to receive increased disability payments from Veterans Affairs.

In a surprising twist, the FAA's own contracted physicians were found to have advised pilots to conceal their medical conditions.

Records reveal that the FAA's Office of Aerospace Medicine allocated $3.6 million to hire medical staffers for additional reviews of certification records.

Pilots in closed cases have been asked to resubmit accurate records and undergo new health exams, while others have been prohibited from flying until cleared by the FAA.

Pilot in uniform discussing aviation safety taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

The Veterans Affairs inspector general's office is also investigating some of the pilots, with potential involvement from the Department of Justice for benefits fraud.

Criticism has been leveled at the FAA for alleged unequal application of the probes.

A number of pilots have been prosecuted for lying to the FAA, including one pilot who was barred from flying due to his failure to disclose sleep apnea.

The FAA has been accused of harassment by veterans who feel they are being unfairly targeted.