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"Aviation doctor examines pilots at Winston-Salem, N.C.-area airport"



Saturday, July 17, 2004

Aviation doctor examines pilots at Winston-Salem, N.C.-area airport
The Winston-Salem (NC) Journal


Most of Hubert Bonfili's life used to revolve around pilots and
medicine. This time around, things are no different.

The former medical director for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., became
the local medical examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration this
year, providing medical service for pilots at a time when some the
country are already skittish about air security.

Fears of terrorism and airline financial problems have greatly added to
pilots' stress levels, Bonfili said this week. And that can lead to
potential problems in the air.

"The FAA is really taking a harder look at people that are coming in for
medical" exams, said Bonfili, the owner of Health Status Evaluations LLC
at the Smith Reynolds Airport. The business has been open for about four
months.

As an aviation medical examiner, Bonfili must perform regular physicals
on pilots, and certify them physically able to fly. All pilots must be
FAA examined and certified medically capable to fly, although
examination schedules differ from different pilot classes.

Sudden incapacitation illnesses -- such as heart attack, kidney stones
and stroke -- are some of the worst potential ailments a pilot can face,
he said.

Bonfili, a Davie County resident, is one of six listed aviation medical
examiners in Winston-Salem. He had been the corporate medical director
for Reynolds Tobacco for about 10 years, but left the position during
company cutbacks in 1993.

For Bonfili, a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., the loss was an opportunity to
return to aviation and health care, he said.

Bonfili retired from the U.S. Air Force is 1981, after about 20 years of
duty. He served as the chief of flight medicine for the Air Force's
Surgeon General's office and ran a 15-bed hospital in Korea during the
early 1970s, he said.

"All along, I've worked with aviation," he said.

But the needs of the job have changed, he said. Concerns of terror
attacks -- particularly by air -- have put airport security screeners
and medical examiners perhaps in the front lines of identifying
potential threats.

Pilots who exhibit erratic behavior, are depressed or who have had
personal problems are scrutinized, he said.

"We're starting to make an assessment psychologically," he said of
examining pilots. "We can pretty well identify people that are probably
safe to fly."

Bonfili is one of the few aviation medical examiners who maintain an
examining room inside an airport terminal. The job allows him to closely
interact with patients -- unlike most family physicians, who can be
typically too harried to spend time with patients, he said.

"That's why I like it," he said. "That's what I like about this type of
environment."

Pace Airlines, a charter airline service, is based in the Smith Reynolds
airport. Companies such as Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. and Reynolds
Tobacco also maintain corporate planes there, he said.

More flights at the airport could increase the region's visibility and
make it easier for patients to visit his office, he said.

"There's a lot of people that are really feeling there could be more
things at this airport," he said. "The airport has a lot of opportunity
for growth."


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