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Fitness for Flight

Chapter 8. Medical Facts for Pilots

Section 1. Fitness for Flight



1. Fitness For Flight

a. Medical Certification.


All pilots except those flying gliders and free

air balloons must possess valid medical certificates in
order to exercise the privileges of their airman
certificates. The periodic medical examinations
required for medical certification are conducted by
designated Aviation Medical Examiners, who are
physicians with a special interest in aviation safety
and training in aviation medicine.


The standards for medical certification are

contained in 14 CFR Part 67. Pilots who have a
history of certain medical conditions described in
these standards are mandatorily disqualified from
flying. These medical conditions include a
personality disorder manifested by overt acts, a
psychosis, alcoholism, drug dependence, epilepsy,
an unexplained disturbance of consciousness,
myocardial infarction, angina pectoris and diabetes
requiring medication for its control. Other medical
conditions may be temporarily disqualifying, such as
acute infections, anemia, and peptic ulcer. Pilots who
do not meet medical standards may still be qualified
under special issuance provisions or the exemption
process. This may require that either additional
medical information be provided or practical flight
tests be conducted.


Student pilots should visit an Aviation

Medical Examiner as soon as possible in their flight
training in order to avoid unnecessary training
expenses should they not meet the medical standards.
For the same reason, the student pilot who plans to
enter commercial aviation should apply for the
highest class of medical certificate that might be
necessary in the pilot’s career.


The CFRs prohibit a pilot who possesses a current
medical certificate from performing crewmember duties
while the pilot has a known medical condition or increase
of a known medical condition that would make the pilot
unable to meet the standards for the medical certificate.

b. Illness.


Even a minor illness suffered in day-to-day

living can seriously degrade performance of many
piloting tasks vital to safe flight. Illness can produce
fever and distracting symptoms that can impair
judgment, memory, alertness, and the ability to make
calculations. Although symptoms from an illness
may be under adequate control with a medication, the
medication itself may decrease pilot performance.


The safest rule is not to fly while suffering

from any illness. If this rule is considered too
stringent for a particular illness, the pilot should
contact an Aviation Medical Examiner for advice.

c. Medication.


Pilot performance can be seriously degraded

by both prescribed and over-the-counter medications,
as well as by the medical conditions for which they
are taken. Many medications, such as tranquilizers,
sedatives, strong pain relievers, and cough-suppres-
sant preparations, have primary effects that may
impair judgment, memory, alertness, coordination,
vision, and the ability to make calculations. Others,
such as antihistamines, blood pressure drugs, muscle
relaxants, and agents to control diarrhea and motion
sickness, have side effects that may impair the same
critical functions. Any medication that depresses the
nervous system, such as a sedative, tranquilizer or
antihistamine, can make a pilot much more
susceptible to hypoxia.


The CFRs prohibit pilots from performing

crewmember duties while using any medication that
affects the faculties in any way contrary to safety. The
safest rule is not to fly as a crewmember while taking
any medication, unless approved to do so by the FAA.

d. Alcohol.


Extensive research has provided a number of

facts about the hazards of alcohol consumption and
flying. As little as one ounce of liquor, one bottle of
beer or four ounces of wine can impair flying skills,
with the alcohol consumed in these drinks being
detectable in the breath and blood for at least 3 hours.
Even after the body completely destroys a moderate
amount of alcohol, a pilot can still be severely