Commercial Airline Pilot Medical Requirements
What are the requirements to hold a Class One Medical?
What medical qualifications you need to become a pilot
Gaining a clear understanding of what is required in order to be eligible to apply for a commercial pilot job can be quite a challenge. There seem to be so many steps involved and a meaningless jungle of abbreviations to work out. This section concentrates on the medical requirements to become a pilot.
The Medical Certificate
The very first recommendation to any aspiring pilot is to obtain a Class One Medical certificate. This is a mandatory requirement for all flight crew in order to operate a jet commercially. For a UK issue, the initial assessment takes place at the CAA medical centre located at London Gatwick Airport. You are tested for good general health, and any disqualifying conditions such as diabetes and colour blindness are identified. Unfortunately for some, this occasion may highlight an underlying medical condition which has not before been detected, and the medical certificate will not be issued. Some conditions are not necessarily disqualifying, but may require further investigation and testing. After the initial issue, you are required to attend a medical assessment on an annual basis until the age of forty, then every six months until the age of 65 which is the age at which class one medical privileges are revoked. Items such as ECG and audiograms are retested at periodic intervals, increasing in frequency with age.
For those unlucky enough not to be able to obtain a class one medical, you may still be able to hold a class two medical which allows you to operate light aircraft with a private pilots licence (PPL). A class two medical is effectively a less stringent class one medical, with test renewals initially taking place every two years.
A commercial pilot is in complete reliance of maintaining his or her class one medical. The CAA may revoke it at any time, consequently grounding the pilot. This may be untimely, and can often cut a career short. For this reason, maintaining a fit and healthy lifestyle may well go a long way to prolonging a career.
There have been people who have invested significant amounts of money in obtaining a Private Pilots Licence (requiring only a class two medical), with the view to continue training towards a commercial licence, only to find that they were ineligible for a class one medical, and therefore unable to pursue a commercial career.
What to expect at the initial examination
The information below has been taken from the UK CAA website. We have provided the information for use as a guide only, any medical enquiries should be directed to the regulatory authority for your country.
- Medical history review
- Eyesight test – “If you wear glasses or contact lenses it is important to take your last optician’s report along to the examination. An applicant may be assessed as fit with hypermetropia not exceeding +5.0 dioptres, myopia not exceeding -6.0 dioptres, astigmatism not exceeding 2.0 dioptres, and anisometropia not exceeding 2.0 dioptres, provided that optimal correction has been considered and no significant pathology is demonstrated. Monocular visual acuities should be 6/6 or better.”
- Hearing test – “Applicants may not have a hearing loss of more than 35dB at any of the frequencies 500Hz, 1000Hz or 2000Hz, or more than 50dB at 3000Hz, in either ear separately.”
- Physical Examination – “A general check that all is functioning correctly. It will cover lungs, heart, blood pressure, stomach, limbs and nervous system.”
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) – “This measures the electrical impulses passing through your heart. It can show disorders of the heart rhythm or of the conduction of the impulses, and sometimes it can show a lack of blood supplying the heart muscle. Changes on an ECG require further investigation. A report from a cardiologist and further tests (for example an exercise ECG) may need to be done.”
- Lung function test (spirometry) – “This tests your ability to expel air rapidly from your lungs. Abnormal lung function or respiratory problems, e.g. asthma will require reports by a specialist in respiratory disease (UK CAA Asthma guidance and Guidance for Respiratory Reports).”
- Haemoglobin blood test – “This is a finger prick blood test which measures the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. A low haemoglobin is called anaemia and will need further investigation.”
- Urine test – “You will be asked to provide a sample of urine, so remember to attend for examination with a full bladder. This tests for sugar (diabetes), protein or blood in the urine.”
All content in the quotation marks has been referenced from the UK CAA medical website.