New Requirement from FAA Aerospace Medicine
Thursday, February 16, 2012
The FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine instituted a policy in 2009 that is being widely implemented now for both controllers and pilots. Previously, any controller or pilot using medications with sedating side effects because of any psychoactive properties of the medication were required to wait two dosing intervals before being eligible to return to safety-sensitive duties. For example, if the instructions indicate that the medication could be taken every eight hours, one would have to wait a minimum of 16 hours before returning to flight duties.
The problem is that many over the counter medications with similar names may contain different psychoactive substances with different half-lives. A half-life is that period of time required for one-half of the medication to be metabolized, broken down or eliminated from the body. Nyquil, for example, has different products in which five half-lives may range from 60 to 120 hours. In general, "night time" or "allergy" preparations contain sedating antihistamine components that can temporarily incapacitate controllers. Most "daytime" or "non-drowsy" preparations are free of these compounds.
According to research at the Civil Aviation Medicine Institute and other aviation literature, the sedating side effects of these medications may persist for up to five half-lives of the sedating component. This is considered a safety-compromising issue. As a consequence, the FAA now requires that those using medications with sedating side effects wait five half-lives from the last use of the medication before returning to duties. Five half-lives essentially is the time it takes for most of these medications to be eliminated from the body.
Controllers should read the ingredients of any medications they intend to use and discuss the potential periods of temporary incapacitation following use with their Regional Flight Surgeon's office, or contact Aviation Medicine Advisory Service at 720-857-6117 or www.AviationMedicine.com. Each Regional Flight Surgeon retains the authority to determine how long a medication will incapacite and when the controller may return to safety-sensitive duties, once the underlying medical condition is improved or resolved.