Definition and Overview

All aspiring pilots are required to undergo a certified medical examination to show that they are physically and mentally fit to practice their profession and qualified to fly an aircraft.

Due to the nature of their work, pilots have to meet higher medical standards and have to undergo a more comprehensive examination to ensure not just their safety but also the safety of air travelers. Making sure that pilots are physically cleared to operate an aircraft is essential for preventing serious consequences that may occur if health issues hinder a pilot from flying the aircraft safely and carefully.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

Certified medical examination for pilot is for the following:

  • Airline transport pilots
  • Commercial pilots
  • Private pilots
  • Recreational pilots
  • Flight instructors
  • Flight engineers
  • Flight navigators
  • Student pilots
    Pilots who passed the exam will be granted any of the following medical certificates:

  • Class 1 or First Class medical certificate – This is necessary for all airline transport pilots and is valid for 12 months if the pilot is 40 years old or younger and for six months if the pilot is older than 40.

  • Class 2 or Second Class medical certificate – This is necessary for all commercial pilots and is valid for 12 months.
  • Class 3 or Third Class medical certificate – This is necessary for all private and recreational pilots and is similar to the medical clearance required by a person who drives a car. The certificate is valid for five years if the pilot is under 40 years of age and for two years if the pilot is over 40.
    Aside from receiving a medical certificate, the pilot may also be required to complete additional testing or provide documentation in case there are questionable issues detected during the examination.

How Does the Procedure Works

Flight physicals, as these medical examinations are called, are performed on all pilots before they are granted a flying license or before they can have their license renewed. These exams are done periodically, i.e. every 6-12 months for first class pilots, every 12 months for second class pilots, and every 2-5 years for third class pilots.

The exam is more comprehensive than a routine physical examination and includes:

  • Height and weight measurement
  • Pulse test
  • Urine test
  • ECG or electrocardiogram – Electrocardiograms are usually required during the first physical exam of a pilot once he reaches 35 years of age and then annually after he reaches age 40 if he is aiming for a First Class certification.
  • Head, face, neck, and scalp check
  • Eye exam (ophthalmoscopic, pupils, and ocular motility)
  • Vision test
  • Distant vision – Pilots are required to have a visual acuity of 6/9 in each eye when used separately and 6/6 when the eyes are used together. This can be either natural or as a result of vision correction using contact lenses. If there is refractive error or astigmatism, there are certain limitations. For example, astigmatism that does not exceed 2.00 diopters will generally not lead to a denial of a medical certification.
  • Near vision – Pilots must be able to read the N14 print at 100 cm and the N5 print at 30 to 50 cm using natural or corrected vision.
  • Field of vision – A pilot’s field of vision must be normal. Double vision, eye muscle imbalances, or acute and chronic eye diseases are not allowed.
  • Color vision – This is tested using the Ishihara Test Plates.
  • Nose exam
  • Sinus exam
  • Mouth and throat check
  • Eardrum check
  • Ear exam or hearing test–Pilots are required to undergo a basic hearing test and must fall within a certain hearing range. There is, however, an allowable loss of hearing, taking into consideration the fact that a pilot’s career makes them vulnerable to noise-induced hearing loss. However, loss of hearing should only be within the maximum level of 35 dB at a frequency of 500 to 2000 Hz and 50 dB at a frequency of 3000 Hz.
  • Lung and chest checkup
  • Lung function test or spirometry
  • Chest x-ray
  • Blood test
  • Hemoglobin blood test
  • Cholesterol blood test
  • Blood pressure – It is preferable for pilots to have a normal blood pressure level below 140/90.
  • Vascular system checkup
  • Abdominal checkup
  • Genitourinary system checkup
  • Skin checkup
  • Musculoskeletal (arms, legs, and spine) checkup
  • Lymphatic system checkup
  • Psychiatric exam
  • Neurologic exam
    If necessary, the practitioner may request for additional medical information that can be obtained through clinical exams, such as laboratory procedures and biopsies.

If the pilot has to meet certain medical requirements before being granted a medical certificate, the practitioner will make recommendations. For example, if a pilot has a vision issue, the practitioner may prescribe either eye surgery or monofocal and non-tinted contact lenses, whichever the case requires.

Possible Risks and Complications

It is possible for a person to be denied of a medical certificate due to:

  • Recent surgical procedure
  • Medications being taken
  • Alcohol or substance issues
  • The use of herbal food supplements
  • Existing medical condition
    If a pilot is denied during his initial exam, he can make an appeal provided that he present complete documentation. For example, if he has an existing medical condition, he has to provide documentation that the condition is being treated, is under control, and will not get in the way of his ability to fly an aircraft. However, some of the above factors, such as alcohol and substance issues, may require extensive paperwork and may be subject to strict requirements.

Also, pilots are advised to prepare for the physical exam by resting well prior to the test and avoiding certain foods and beverages that are high in sugar and caffeine, as these may affect the results of the test.

Reference:

  • Federal Aviation Administration
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