SACAA rethinks medicine

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The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has launched a 15 member committee aimed at advising the authority on medical risks posed by aviation staff.

The Aeromedical Committee comprising 11 permanent members and four non-permanent members appointed by the Director of Civil Aviation includes representatives of the Universities of Pretoria, Limpopo and the Witwatersrand. The South African Military Heath Service is also included, the state BuaNews agency reports.

In explaining the need for such a committee, Captain Colin Jordaan, the authority’s Director of Civil Aviation, said the medical wellbeing of the aviation sector personnel was important. The new body serves an advisory role and is made up of medical, psychological, surgical and ancillary health experts. The team will advise Jordaan on any medical risks posed by existing or prospective aviation staff who are required by the Civil Aviation Regulations to hold medical certificates.

Since the creation of the SACAA in 1998, aviation medical functions some of which were previously overseen by the Institute for Aviation Medicine (which is a military institution reporting to the Defence department) have been decentralised.
“The decentralisation of the civil aviation medical services inevitably resulted in many challenges, including outdated medical protocols which led to unnecessary medical appeals, a lack of clear definition of an acceptable medical risk and limited participation by medical institutions,” Jordaan said on Wednesday.

Given that airplanes may fail occasionally, human beings are the cause of aviation accidents more than 70 percent of the time.

The flying environment differs from others due to altitude stressors such as hypoxia, noise and vibration, low humidity and spatial disorientation. Due to these aircraft crew are required to maintain high levels of physical and mental fitness. They are required to have their medical fitness assessed in order to carry out their duties.
“In that regard, aeromedical decisions must be based on factual and objective data which is evidence-based and supported by documentation, in order to ensure aviation safety. Due to these complexities, as the Safety Regulator, we often find ourselves at loggerheads with aviators and their medical doctors. Only an impartial body, in this case the Aeromedical Committee, can help us find a common ground by making rulings based on nothing but factual and objective data,” said Jordaan,

Jordaan added that the formation of the committee comes at the right time seeing that recent research indicates that the most common medical conditions encountered that lead to medical unfitness among civil aviation personnel in this country are neurology, cardiovascular and psychiatric conditions.