The Most Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Medical Certification Of Pilots
1. What is a medical certificate?
Routine medical exams accomplish the same goal for pilots. When an aircraft successfully completes an annual inspection, the inspector endorses in the logbooks that the aircraft is airworthy. Similarly, when a pilot successfully passes the flight physical, the physician endorses the medical certificate which the pilot then carries with him/her each time he/she flies. This is then evidence that the pilot has met the medical standards for aircraft operation.
2. Who is required to hold a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
Any person acting as pilot-in-command or other required crewmember of an aircraft (except for free balloons, gliders, and ultralights) must hold a current and appropriate medical certificate. This includes student pilots in solo flight as well as private, commercial, and airline pilots.
3. How does one get a medical certificate?
The FAA has designated over 5000 private physicians (called Aviation Medical Examiners or AMEs) around the United States (and the world) to take applications for, give exams for, and issue FAA medical certificates. A list of FAA designated medical examiners is available. The applicant simply contacts the physician's office for an appointment and after arrival, completes an application form and undergoes the physical examination. If the applicant meets the appropriate medical standards, the AME will issue the medical certificate.
4. What types of medical certificates are available and how long
are they good for?
There are three classes of medical certificates:
Class 3 medical certificates are for private pilot duties only. They have the least restrictive medical requirements and the certificates are generally good for 3 years for applicants under age 40 and 2 years for those 40 and over.
Class 2 medical certificates are for commercial, non-airline duties as well as private pilot duties. This certificate would be required of crop dusters, charter pilots, corporate pilots, and anyone else who flies commercially. The certificate is good for 1 year for commercial activities and 2 or 3 years for private pilot use.
Class 1 medical certificates are required for pilots of scheduled airliners. They have the most stringent medical requirements and the certificate is good for 6 months for airliner duties. Like the Class 2 certificate, however, it is good for 1 year for other commercial activities and 2 or 3 years for private pilot duties.
5. What medical standards must be met to be issued each of the above
The medical standards for each class of medical certificate are put forth in Part 67 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (14 CFR 67).
6. What are the minimum and maximum ages for obtaining a medical
There is no minimum or maximum age, per se, for obtaining a medical certificate. Any applicant who is able to pass the exam may be issued a certificate. However, an applicant under the age of 16 (the minimum age for a student pilot certificate) will not be able to obtain an airman certificate (pilot's license) and would therefore have no practical use for the medical certificate.
7. Can I get my student pilot certificate at the same time I take
my initial flight physical?
Yes. AME's are authorized to issue combination Airman Medical and Student Pilot certificates to appropriate applicants. To obtain this combination certificate, the applicant must not only meet the medical standards but must also be at least 16 years old and be able to read, speak, and understand the English language. If these requirements are met, the AME will issue the combined certificate. PLEASE NOTE: The combined medical / student pilot certificate will not be good for flight duties until properly endorsed by the student's instructor.
8. What does it cost to get a medical certificate?
The FAA does not set fees for the performance of the medical exam and issuance of the medical certificate. The AME is allowed to charge the applicant appropriately, as long as it is not more than his/her usual fee for similar examinations for other purposes. If you are concerned about the cost of the exam, please discuss this with the doctor you are thinking about seeing. The FAA has no additional fees above what the physician charges.
9. I have some minor medical problems and would like to find out
whether or not they will create difficulties when I go to get my medical
certificate. Who could I contact in order to get further information about
There are several sources for information regarding the various medical conditions that might afflict applicants for medical certification. One source is your local AME. This physician (see Question 3 above) may be willing to discuss your medical problems and the impact they are likely to have on certification. Frequently, AMEs will do this over the phone without charge. Another alternative is to contact the FAA directly, either through your Regional Flight Surgeons office or through us, the Aeromedical Certification Division of the FAA in Oklahoma City. Our office is open from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM Central Time during regular weekdays. The phone number is (405) 954-4821. (Be patient. We get a lot of calls.)
A third source of information is through the various pilot organizations such as the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) at 1-800-564-6332 or the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) at 1-800-872-2672.
10. If my application for medical certification is turned down, what
recourse do I have?
Part 67 of the Federal Aviation Regulations outlines the appeal process for applicants who are denied medical certification. In a nut shell, the initial appeal would be to the Federal Air Surgeon (through our Oklahoma City office) to request an authorization for the special issuance of a medical certificate. This might result in a medical certificate that is time-limited, contingent upon the successful completion of addition medical testing, or otherwise restricted. If this request is not successful, then an appeal to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) could be made. If the NTSB concurs with the FAA's denial action, you could then request a hearing in Federal District Court and ultimately the Supreme Court.
11. What happens if I get my medical certificate and then I have
some sort of medical problem that develops before the certificate expires?
Do I have to report it and do I have to ground myself? Can I keep on flying
until the certificate expires?
The regulations are quite clear that, despite the presence of an unexpired medical certificate, it is still your responsibility as a pilot to maintain your health. If you develop a new medical condition or experience the worsening of an existing medical condition such that you may no longer meet the medical requirements, then you must not fly until the problem is resolved. A simple problem such as a cold, a broken arm, or an abscessed tooth may require nothing more than the appropriate treatment and a little time before you can safely return to the skies. A more complicated problem or the development or change of a chronic illness may necessitate consultation with an AME or the FAA before flying resumes. As long as you choose not to fly, the medical condition does not need to be reported to the FAA until you wish to return to flying.
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