FAA

Do Pilots Need a Medical Certificate?
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The FAA requires most pilots to have their medical certificate on their person or in the aircraft. Here’s a list of the types of airmen required to hold a medical certificate:

  • Airline transport, commercial, private, recreational, and student pilots.

  •  Flight instructor certificate (when serving as a pilot in command or a required flight crewmember).

  • Flight engineers, flight navigators, and air traffic control tower operators.

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However, the medical certificate isn’t required if you’re one of the following:

  • Any pilot or flight instructor in a balloon or glider.

  •  Examiner, check airman, or examinee during a practical test or proficiency check in a glider, balloon, flight simulator, or flight training device.

  • Ground instructors.

  • Drone pilots.

  •  Pilots exercising private pilot privileges under BasicMed.

  • S. Armed Forces military pilots (with certain limitations).

You may also use a U.S. driver’s license or a medical certificate if you’re a student, sport pilot, flight instructor, or examiner in light-sport aircraft.

Moreover, A U.S. driver’s license suffices if you’re a student, recreational, or private pilot, or flight instructor (acting as the pilot in command or as a required flight crewmember) if the aircraft, flight, and pilot meet certain conditions and limitations.

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Getting Your FAA Airman Medical Certificate

In the United States, you must follow these steps to get your FAA medical certificate:

  • Complete the initial portion of your application on MedXPress.

  •  Book an appointment with an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME).

  • Pass the medical examination (your AME will complete the rest of your application).

  • Get your medical certificate if you meet the medical standards.

Sound good?

Let’s talk about the medical exam before we explore the medical certificates in more detail.

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What Happens in an FAA Pilot Medical Exam?

First, you need to find an FAA AME and book an appointment. You may ask fellow pilots or flight instructors for recommendations, or you could use the FAA’s “Find an Aviation Medical Examiner” portal to locate an AME.

Private Pilot

The examiner often starts the exam with questions about your recent medical history, including any hospital visits, surgeries, or medications.

The medical exam consists of a series of tests, examining your vision, hearing, blood pressure, pulse, urine, and general health among other areas. It may include an ECG if you’re 35 years of age and older and applying for a first-class medical certificate.

Moreover, the AME will ask questions about your mental health to determine your psychological fitness.

How long does it take to complete your medical exam?

Generally, your medical exam takes between 15 and 30 minutes if you have no medical condition or irregularities during the exam (e.g., high blood pressure).

What to bring to your medical exam?

You should bring the following items to your flight physical:

•             Proof of age and identity (e.g., driver’s license or passport).

•             Last medical certificate.

•             Contact lenses or glasses.

•             Your total and past 6-month flight time (logged or estimated).

•             If you have any medical conditions, you should also provide history and treatment, pertinent medical records, current status report, and medication.

Medical Exam Outcomes

Your AME may issue, defer, or deny your application for a medical certificate:

Issuance

Your examiner should issue a medical certificate if you meet the required medical standards for the class.

Deferral

Your AME should defer your application to the FAA for action if they have any concerns about your medical eligibility or history.

 
Denial

The examiner will deny certification if the applicant clearly doesn’t meet the medical standards. It is a rare occurrence, though, denial accounts for roughly 0.1 percent of more than 450,000 applications for the FAA medical certificate annually.

However, An AME’s denial of a medical certificate is not a final FAA denial. You may appeal the examiner’s decision by submitting a request for consideration to the FAA’s Aerospace Medical Certification Division.

Medical Exam Tips

Here are a few tips to get you through your medical examination seamlessly:

Pick an experienced AME

A medical examiner who does hundreds of exams each year can help you navigate the application, examination, and regulation nuances. Ask around for recommendations and check online for reviews.

Prepare for the exam

Get enough sleep, keep yourself hydrated, and avoid any food or beverage that’s high in caffeine, sodium, or sugar and stay away from tobacco and stimulants for eight hours before your medical exam.

Bring the appropriate documents and items

Make sure you have all the pertinent items, such as your photo ID, medical records, and corrective lenses. Generally, the more documentation available, the faster the certification process.

Take the exam early

Don’t wait until the last few days before your medical certificate expires to complete your exam. You may not be able to schedule an appointment with an AME for some reason.

Build a long-term relationship with your AME

An AME who’s familiar with you and your medical history makes for smooth medical examination and certification. Find an examiner you’re comfortable with and stick with them.

So, you know what to expect and how to prepare for your medical exam.

Let’s discuss the medical certificate classes.

FAA Medical Certificate Classes
 

Medical certificates for pilots come in three classes: first, second, and third.

Each class has its standards and requirements, which include thresholds for vision, hearing, and blood pressure. Moreover, all classes require having no diagnosis, medical history, medication, or treatment for certain health conditions, diseases, and defects that may interfere with the person’s ability to fly safely.

First, you need to find an FAA AME and book an appointment. You may ask fellow pilots or flight instructors for recommendations, or you could use the FAA’s “Find an Aviation Medical Examiner” portal to locate an AME.

Private Pilot

The examiner often starts the exam with questions about your recent medical history, including any hospital visits, surgeries, or medications.

The medical exam consists of a series of tests, examining your vision, hearing, blood pressure, pulse, urine, and general health among other areas. It may include an ECG if you’re 35 years of age and older and applying for a first-class medical certificate.

Moreover, the AME will ask questions about your mental health to determine your psychological fitness.

How long does it take to complete your medical exam?

Generally, your medical exam takes between 15 and 30 minutes if you have no medical condition or irregularities during the exam (e.g., high blood pressure).

What to bring to your medical exam?

You should bring the following items to your flight physical:

•             Proof of age and identity (e.g., driver’s license or passport).

•             Last medical certificate.

•             Contact lenses or glasses.

•             Your total and past 6-month flight time (logged or estimated).

•             If you have any medical conditions, you should also provide history and treatment, pertinent medical records, current status report, and medication.

Medical Exam Outcomes

Your AME may issue, defer, or deny your application for a medical certificate:

Issuance

Your examiner should issue a medical certificate if you meet the required medical standards for the class.

Deferral

Your AME should defer your application to the FAA for action if they have any concerns about your medical eligibility or history.

FAA Medical Certificate Classes
 

Medical certificates for pilots come in three classes: first, second, and third.

Each class has its standards and requirements, which include thresholds for vision, hearing, and blood pressure. Moreover, all classes require having no diagnosis, medical history, medication, or treatment for certain health conditions, diseases, and defects that may interfere with the person’s ability to fly safely.

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First Class

A first-class medical certificate is a requirement for airline transport pilots. It has the most stringent medical standards.

 
Second Class

The FAA designates the second-class medical certificate for commercial pilots. It has the same medical standards required for the first, but with one exception:

You’re not required to conduct an electrocardiogram.

 
Third Class

The third-class medical certificate is the minimum certification for student, recreational and private pilots. It’s quite similar to the second, but your vision doesn’t have to be as sharp.

Distant vision must be 20/40 or better and there’s no requirement for intermediate vision.

You’re familiar with the classes, but how long is an FAA medical certificate good for?

 
FAA Medical Certificate Validity

First Class

Airline Transport Pilot

Second Class

Commercial Pilot

Third Class

Private, Recreational, and Student Pilots

The validity of your medical certificate depends on two factors: Age and operation type.

See, you may exercise the privileges of a lower airman certificate, which changes the validity period.

Here’s an example:

Suppose you’re an airline pilot with an ATP certificate. In this case, your medical certificate is valid for 6 months if you’re age 40 or older. However, the validity period becomes 24 months if you’re exercising private pilot privileges. Say, flying a Cessna 150 to a nearby island on weekends.

Got it?

Good, but you should know that many medical conditions would render you ineligible for a medical certificate.

  A.  First Class Medical Certificate: A first class medical certificate is valid for the remainder of the month of issue; plus

  • 6 calendar months for operations requiring a first class medical certificate if the airman is age 40 or over on or before the date of the examination, or

  • 12-calendar months for operations requiring a first-class medical certificate if the airman has not reached age 40 on or before the date of examination, or

  • 12 calendar months for operations requiring a second class medical certificate, or

  •  24 calendar months for operations requiring a third class medical certificate if the airman is age 40 or over on or before the date of the examination, or

  •  60 calendar months for operations requiring a third class medical certificate if the airman has not reached age 40 on or before the date of examination.

 

  B.  Second Class Medical Certificate: A second class medical certificate is valid for the remainder of the month of issue; plus

  • 12 calendar months for operations requiring a second class medical certificate, or

  • 24 calendar months for operations requiring a third class medical certificate, if the airman is age 40 or over on or before the date of the examination, or

  •  60 calendar months for operations requiring a third class medical certificate if the airman has not reached age 40 on or before the date of examination.

 

  C. Third Class Medical Certificate: A third-class medical certificate is valid for the remainder of the month of issue; plus

  • 24 calendar months for operations requiring a third class medical certificate, if the airman is age 40 or over on or before the date of the examination, or

  • 60 calendar months for operations requiring a third class medical certificate if the airman has not reached age 40 on or before the date of examination.