Airline Pilot Medical Requirements
The very first recommendation for any aspiring pilot is to obtain a Class 1 Pilot Medical Certificate. This is a mandatory requirement for all airline flight crew to operate a jet for commercial purposes. For a medical certificate issued in the UK or Europe, the initial assessment may take place with an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) specifically authorized by the CAA and listed on its website.
Unfortunately, people invest large sums in obtaining a private pilot’s license (requiring only a class two medical examination), in order to continue their training for a commercial license. They may then discover that they were not eligible for a Class 1 medical and therefore cannot pursue a career as a commercial pilot. So make sure you can meet the medical requirements before you start your pilot training.
Class 1 Pilot Initial Medical Assessment
During the initial Class 1 medical evaluation, you are tested and checked for a general level of good health and any specific disqualifying conditions are identified. Unfortunately for some, this occasion may highlight an underlying medical condition that has not previously been detected, and the medical certificate will not be issued. Some conditions are not necessarily disqualifying but may require further investigation and testing.
What is included in a Pilot Class 1 Medical Assessment?
During the initial examination, are evaluated:
Disclaimer: The information below is taken from the UK CAA website. We have provided the information for reference only. All medical inquiries should be directed to the regulatory authority in your country. This advice was correct at the time of publication, but may have since changed. The list is non-exhaustive.
- Eye exam – “If you wear glasses or contact lenses, it’s important to bring the latest report from your optician to the exam. An applicant may be found fit with hyperopia not exceeding +5.0 diopters, myopia not exceeding -6.0 diopters, astigmatism not exceeding 2.0 diopters and anisometropia not exceeding 2.0 diopters, at provided that an optimal correction has been considered and that no significant pathology is demonstrated. Monocular visual acuities should be 6/6 or better.
- Hearing test – “Candidates cannot have a hearing loss greater than 35dB at any of the frequencies 500Hz, 1000Hz or 2000Hz, or greater than 50dB at 3000Hz, in each ear separately.”
- Physical Examination – “A general check that everything is working properly. It will cover the lungs, heart, blood pressure, stomach, limbs and nervous system.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) – “This measures the electrical impulses that pass through your heart. It may show disturbances in the heart’s rhythm or conduction of impulses, and sometimes it may show a lack of blood supplying the heart muscle. Changes on an ECG require further investigation.A report from a cardiologist and other tests (eg exercise ECG) may be required.
- Lung function test (spirometry) – “This tests your ability to get air out of your lungs quickly. Abnormal lung function or breathing problems, for example asthma, will require reports from a respiratory specialist ( UK CAA Asthma guidance and Guidance for Respiratory Reports).
- Hemoglobin blood test – “This is a finger prick blood test that measures the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. A low hemoglobin level is called anemia and will require further investigation.
- Urine test – “You will be asked to provide a urine sample, so remember to come to the exam with a full bladder. This tests for sugar (diabetes), protein or blood in the urine .
All content in quotes has been referenced from the UK CAA Medical Website.
How rigorous is the class 1 medical examination?
The awarding of Class 1 medical certifications seems to be more lenient as science and studies have evolved. For example, it is now permissible to hold a class 1 medical exam if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, provided you demonstrate that you can manage your blood sugar effectively. If in doubt about your ability to pass a medical examination, you may be required to demonstrate your competence in the simulator (eg a hands-on auditory observation).
Multi-crew operational limitation (OML)
Certain conditions (such as diabetes), although not immediately disqualifying, may require a restriction on your authority to operate commercial aircraft. This is called a multi-crew operational limitation or OML. This allows you to exercise your class 1 medical privileges only within a multi-crew environment. Crews who have an OML restriction cannot fly together as part of a 2-crew flight, and an OML holder cannot fly with another pilot over the age of 60.
Pilot Medical Renewal
After initial medical issuance, you must report for an annual medical evaluation until age 60, then every six months until age 65, at which time first class medical privileges are revoked .
Items such as ECG and audiograms are retested at regular intervals, the frequency of which increases with age. For example, ECGs are performed every 2 years between ages 30-39, then every year until age 59, then every 6 months until retirement.
What if I can’t get a Class 1 Medical Pilot?
For those unlucky enough to not be able to obtain a class one medical, you may still be able to hold a class two medical which allows you to fly light aircraft with a Private Pilot License (PPL). A class two medical exam is actually a less stringent class one medical exam, with retests initially taking place every two years.
Medical pilot revoked
A commercial pilot depends on maintaining his Class 1 medical certificate to exercise his flying privileges. The regulatory authority may revoke the medical examination at any time, resulting in the temporary or permanent immobilization of the pilot. Some pilots find themselves in a position where their medical exam is revoked due to a medical condition.
With the continued evolution of scientific knowledge and medical treatments, coupled with the occasional review of disqualification conditions by regulatory authorities, some individuals have successfully resumed commercial flight after their careers have ended due to a lost medical exam. .
What could previously be a disqualifying condition is now often assessed on an individual basis.
It’s worth considering having additional loss of income insurance (or loss of medical insurance) in place to ensure you’re financially secure if you lose your medical insurance. Trying to find another job that offers a level of pay similar to that of a pilot is not easy.