In order to become a licensed pilot, the FAA requires prospective pilots take and pass a medical exam and obtain an FAA Medical Certificate. This article covers an overview of this process, how to complete it, as well as answers to common questions.
What is the FAA Medical Exam?
Getting an aviation medical certificate is required in order to get most pilot licenses. Getting this medical certificate includes passing an aviation medical exam. This entire process can be a cause of concern for a lot of potential pilots. The process itself is confusing if you don’t know what you’re doing. To make matters worse, many pilots worry that something about their health record will cause them to fail.
The last thing any pilot wants to do is fail an exam that could mean they’ll no longer be able to fly. The good news is that most applicants do pass the exam and are cleared to fly. The key is knowing how the process works and navigating through it even if you run into roadblocks.
Which Pilots Need Medical Certificates?
First off, let’s take a look at which pilot certificate require a medical certificate and which ones don’t. If you plan on getting and using a sport pilot license or balloon license, you won’t have to worry about any of this as a medical certificate is not required for those pilots. For all other pilots, however, this will be required.
The Steps to Getting an FAA Medical Certificate
The first things you need to do to start the process is fill out an electronic form through the FAA’s MedXpress system. This online application will have you provide information about yourself and your medical history that will eventually be reviewed by an FAA Medical Examiner.
Filling out this online application begins the process and gets your information to a medical examiner.
The FAA Medical Examiner
Your Medical Examiner will review your information, verify your identity, and perform a physical exam. This will include going over your information from the online application, discussing your health and medical history, and discuss any issues they might see that might keep you from passing.
The exam will also include other health screening like checking your blood pressure and a urine analysis. The medical examiner may also perform an eye and vision exam as well as a hearing exam. All of this is to make sure you are fit to fly and have the ability to do so safely.
Three Classes of Medical Exams
There are three different classes of medical exams. The one you have to pass is determined by which pilot certificate you earning. Here is a breakdown of each:
Third Class: This is the most basic of the medical exams. It is required for those attempting to earn a student pilot license, recreational pilot license, and private pilot license.
Second Class: This one is required for anyone attempting to earn their commercial pilot license..
First Class: A first class medical certificate is required in order to earn a airline transport pilot certificate.
The main differences between these is how in depth the exam gets and how often you have to have it done. Much of the 3 tests are actually very similar although the first class medical exam is required to be done annually and includes and Electrocardiogram test if you’re over the age of 40.
(If you aren’t sure which pilot license is best for you, make sure to look at our breakdown of each pilot license.)
What If You Are Denied or Deferred?
If the medical examiner find something that might keep you from passing, they will often refer it to the FAA for further review. If the certificate is denied, you can still appeal with the FAA assuming that there isn’t something in your history that completely disqualifies you.
If you do have to work with the FAA to pass the test, there are several things you might have to do. This might include switching a medication they approve of, showing that you have not had symptopns for a certain length of time, or in the case of alcohol abuse – show that you are in treatment and have been sober for a specific amount of time.
Other times the FAA might look at your referral or appeal and just change their mind and give you a passing grade. Although the process can be stressful, as long as you work with the medical examiner and FAA, most pilots are eventually cleared to fly.
How Do I Find an Aviation Medical Examiner?
The easiest way to get in contact with someone near you to have the exam completed is to go to the FAA website and look at their list of medical examiners. Their site allows you to search by several criteria including your location, which makes it very easy to find a provider near you. A link to their search tool can be found here.
If you happen to know someone else who has already gone through this process, it’s a good idea to ask if they have a recommendation on an examiner they used. It usually makes the situation somewhat more comfortable if someone you trust has already had a good experience with the examiner.
How Much Does It Cost
A common concern people have is the cost of getting this medical exam. Luckily, it isn’t too expensive. The medical examiner you use will determine how much they charge for an aviation medical exam.
There are certain conditions that will typically prevent you from passing the test. Here is the list of conditions that their regulations list as being disqualifying:
- Angina pectoris
- Bipolar disease
- Cardiac valve replacement
- Coronary heart disease that has been treated or, if untreated, that has been symptomatic or clinically significant
- Diabetes mellitus requiring hypoglycemic medications
- Disturbance of consciousness without satisfactory explanation of cause
- Heart replacement
- Myocardial infarction
- Permanent cardiac pacemaker
- Personality disorder that is severe enough to have repeatedly manifested itself by overt acts
- Substance abuse
- Substance dependence
- Transient loss of control of nervous system function(s) without satisfactory explanation of cause.
Keep in mind that for many of these conditions the FAA will still allow you to get licensed if you can show that the condition is adequately controlled and if you are willing to provide the FAA with periodic reports. Basically, they want to make sure that you are doing what you need to do in order to be safe while flying as a pilot. Also, there are other instances that might qualify for a disqualification that aren’t listed here. Make sure to discuss questions you might have with your medical examiner.
Do They Test For Drugs
Although the medical exam includes a urine test, they typically do not look for drugs or alcohol in your system. The test is more so done to check other levels in your system and to make sure you are healthy to fly. While getting licensed, you will be asked if you use drugs and lying on that form will result in you likely losing your pilot license. For that reason, you are better off being honest than lying.
Where to Go From Here
If you are already in the process of getting a pilot certificate and want to learn more, I would head over to the FAA’s site on the topic and read more about it. More likely, you should work towards getting the exam done and getting cleared to fly.
Good luck and fly safe!