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FAA removes more aeromedical barriers for mental health concerns

Routine follow-up neuropsychological evaluations no longer required; Wellbutrin XL approved for pilots

Pilots who are taking an antidepressant will no longer have to undergo routine follow-up neuropsychological evaluations in order to continue flying, the FAA’s Office of Aerospace Medicine announced May 31. As part of its efforts to ease mental health barriers for pilots, the agency also approved the use of another antidepressant medication, Wellbutrin XL.

The announcement comes less than a month after FAA Federal Air Surgeon Dr. Susan Northrup said the FAA would be reducing aeromedical barriers for mental health concerns.

The FAA reviewed a decade’s worth of data before removing the requirement for routine follow-up neuropsychological evaluations. The FAA estimated that this change will help save pilots approximately $3,000 a year in evaluation costs.

The agency also updated its Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners to allow pilots to be treated with Bupropion, commonly known as Wellbutrin XL.

“This is an important step because it provides a path for more pilots to receive treatment for their mental health condition and still be medically qualified to fly,” the FAA said.

“AOPA supports the FAA’s continued evaluation of mental health treatments to remove potential barriers to flying and encourage pilots to seek help the help they need for their mental health,” said AOPA President Mark Baker.

Wellbutrin XL is an antidepressant that is prescribed to treat major depressive disorder and seasonal affective disorder. The agency said it is reviewing additional medications for possible approval.

The agency also announced that AMEs can upload supporting documentation directly to the FAA. This will help physicians manage the volume of cases more efficiently while also providing greater transparency for applicants, the FAA said.

AOPA has called on the FAA to modernize its approach to working with pilots with medical conditions that still allow them to fly safely.

Earlier in May, Northrup said that the FAA would be adding seven selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications to the list of approved medications for pilots. Four SSRIs have been approved for use since 2010.

AOPA will continue to provide updates on the FAA’s approval of mental health medications as well as steps to overhaul the medical certification process.

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Senior Director of Media, Digital Media
AOPA Senior Director of Media, Digital Media, Alyssa J. Cobb began working at AOPA in 2004, is a flight instructor, and loves flying her Cessna 170B with her husband and two children. Alyssa also hosts the weekly Fly with AOPA show on the AOPA Pilot Video YouTube channel.
Topics: Pilot Health and Medical Certification

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