DVIDS – News – Aerospace Medicine Implements Return to Flight Duty Status Guidelines for Aircrew Affected by COVID-19

As much of the military works to maintain readiness in the face of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), Aerospace medicine providers are working to implement a guideline with a set of return to flight duty status protocols. The guideline describes how Service members who are in a ‘down’ flight status may safely return to an ‘up’ flight status after close contact or contracting COVID-19.

These protocols were developed in response to Navy and Marine Corps Aerospace Medicine COVID-19 cases and are promulgated to synchronize the community’s approach to medical evaluation when returning aircrew to flight duty status. The protocols within the guideline are reviewed biweekly to incorporate the most updated national guidelines and current published research.

“The return to flight duty status guideline is critical to maintaining operational readiness amongst our aircrew and return them safely to the cockpit,” said CDR Allen Hoffman, Branch Head of Aerospace Medicine Programs at the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

These protocols provide a basic framework for our squadron flight surgeons who will also use their sound clinical judgement when comprehensively evaluating each patient. The guideline details step by step how aircrew can return to flight duty status if they are determined to have contracted the virus or had close contact with someone who has contracted COVID-19.

“There are important clinical criteria for aerospace providers to follow if aircrew contracts COVID-19. For example, it is imperative that the provider follow-up with the infected individual once they have recovered to determine if they have optimal respiratory function and returned to a the physical fitness level necessary to safely operate in the flight environment,” said CDR Hoffman.

To know whether affected aircrew are able to safely operate an aircraft, they must meet set physical standards during a series of tests, including a physical exercise tolerance test. Some of those tests help determine if there are still any remaining functionally limiting damage caused by COVID-19.

“The medical evaluation and information in the guidance will ensure our aircrew are ready to fly after contracting COVID-19. Their health and safety is our first and foremost mission in supporting the warfighter,” said CDR Hoffman.

The official guidance will be published in the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute’s, Aerospace Reference and Waiver Guide by mid-November.

Navy Medicine is a global health care network of 63,000 personnel that provide health care support to the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, their families and veterans in high operational tempo environments, at expeditionary medical facilities, medical treatment facilities, hospitals, clinics, hospital ships and research units around the world.

For more information about Navy Medicine, visit www.med.navy.mil

Date Taken: 10.20.2020
Date Posted: 10.20.2020 15:19
Story ID: 381341

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Sumwalt Stresses Fitness for Duty at NBAA Safety Week

National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt helped cap off NBAA’s week of virtual safety events with a message of the importance of taking precautions in the air and on the ground to ensure fitness for duty.

Sumwalt spoke on the last day of NBAA’s Virtual Safety Week that brought online many of the events typically held in person during NBAA-BACE, including the Single-Pilot Safety Standdown and National Safety Forum as well as the association’s safety awards. In addition, Virtual Safety Week hosted a Safety Town Hall for the first time.

The NTSB chair participated on October 9 during the National Safety Forum, which carried a theme of “Optimizing Your Personal Performance” and focused on fitness for duty for individuals and organizations through effective sleep management, as well as maintaining a healthy mind and healthy body.

Sumwalt praised NBAA for continuing to host the event virtually and said even though there was a venue change, that did not diminish the quality of the events. He added that this year’s theme was “one of critical importance.”

Four of the issues on the NTSB’s “Most Wanted List” of transportation safety improvements center on “ensuring the transportation workers are of sound, mind, body, and soul—basically being fit for duties,” he noted. These include reducing distractions, fatigue-related accidents, and alcohol and drug impairment in transportation, as well as ensuring medical fitness.

Sumwalt in particular focused on drug impairment, pointing to a study released this year on the incidences of drugs found in the systems of pilots killed in aircraft crashes.

That study updated a similar review conducted in 2014 and found the prevalence of drugs has trended upward. The original study looked at the toxicology results of fatally injured pilots from the years 1990 to 2012, while the most recently released study looked at 952 pilots fatally injured in aircraft crashes from 2013 to 2017.

In 2012, 40 percent were found with at least one drug of any kind in their system. By 2017 that number had risen to almost 50 percent.

Of the pilots examined in the most recent study, 28 percent tested positive for at least one potentially impairing drug, up from 23 percent in the 2014 study, and 15 percent tested positive with at least one drug that pointed to a potentially impairing condition, a 3 percent increase from 2014.

Meanwhile, 10 percent were found to have a controlled substance in their system, up from 8 percent in 2014, and 5 percent tested positive for an illegal drug, up slightly from 4 percent in the 2014 study.

Nearly half the pilots involved had an ATP or commercial pilot certificate, he said, but cautioned that does not necessarily mean they were operating in business aviation. He also cautioned that not all were potentially impairing or illegal drugs, noting many involved slower sedating antihistamines and other over-the-counter cold and allergy medication.

He worried about those with potentially impairing drugs and/or conditions and said “it gets really concerning” with the controlled substances, which are

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