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Home > Becoming a Pilot > Is there any chance that I may not fly again once I develop diabetes?
Is there any chance that I may not fly again once I develop diabetes?
Pilot Career - Becoming a Pilot
Friday, 07 December 2007 21:30

Dear Captain Lim,

Seriously, appreciations for your fantastic work on this site. Your website is a one-stop site to know the A to Z about the pilots.  I am at present a software professional who wants to be a pilot. I have three questions:

1.  You have mentioned that diabetes is one of the medical problem that may make a person unfit for pursuing his career as a pilot. I have cleared my Class II and Class I medical examinations and yet to join a flying school. I have a serious concern about diabetes. Right now, I am not a diabetic. But I feel that I have a very high chance of developing diabetes because of my food habits and also my father is diabetic and a heart patient. 

So, is there any chance that I cannot fly if I develop diabetes at later stages of my life, like 40 years or above i.e. when I have to undergo medical examination every 6 months or 1 year? Will I not be able to fly just because I have diabetes or only if I develop any other medical conditions because of diabetes? 

I am asking this question because I have seen many people who live a normal healthy life even when they are diabetic and wonder whether it's a serious concern regarding pilot's fitness!           

 2.  Another question about the career as a pilot in general. In almost every other career there is something like reward/growth based on performance. Even among people who are in similar ranks or positions we can find difference in their career growth. This difference may be due to the extra efforts they put it in their work. Say, for example, in software industry, people always learn new technologies and those people always tend to grow fast in the industry.  Similarly in this aviation industry, is there anything else that determines our growth other than our flying hours? Is there any kind of performance evaluation? 

3. Can a retired pilot (retired due to lack of medical fitness) join any aviation school as flight instructor? If so, what will be their pay scale?  Thank you very much.

Mohan
India.

Hi Mohan,

A pilot who has diabetes would be grounded from flying and a diabetic who is treated by oral medication would not be issued with a medical certificate. However, since 1996, 'some' insulin-dependent diabetics became eligible to be considered for special issuance of Class 3 aviation medical certificate by the FAA. So there is hope that advances in medicine will allow pilots with this disorder to be considered for some restricted certification. 

Pilots wishing authorization to fly while on insulin must document a history of stable diabetic management. They must be free of serious diabetic complications that could affect sight, heart, brain, kidneys, etc.

According to the AOPA's (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) Medical Certification Department,

To qualify for the special issuance, applicants may have no otherwise disqualifying conditions, especially significant diabetes-related complications (arteriosclerotic coronary or cerebral disease, retinal disease, or chronic renal failure). Insulin-taking diabetics may be issued only a third class airman medical certificate for use with a student, recreational or private pilot certificate. 

Applicants may have had no more than one hypoglycemic reaction with loss of consciousness, seizure, impaired cognitive function which occurred without warning symptoms, or requiring intervention by another party within the past five years.

One year of stability must follow the episode of hypoglycemia.  Maintenance of the special issuance requires complete reevaluation by a specialist every three months, and daily blood glucose measurements must be provided. 

A digital glucose monitor with memory must be carried in flight, along with supplies to obtain and measure blood, and rapidly absorbable glucose in 10-gram portions.

Pilots must document a blood glucose level of 100 - 300 mg/dl within one half hour prior to takeoff, hourly during flight, and within one half hour prior to landing.

The problem is, a Class 3 medical would still bar you from flying as a commercial pilot.

In the aviation industry, a pilot's progress is based on his performance and seniority. The pilot community comes from all types of background. I won't say that people from the software industry would necessary progress faster than others. A pilot's performance is based on many criteria. In addition to your qualification, are you, amongst others, assertive, highly motivated, posses good skills in judgment and problem solving, in leadership, teamwork and communication? These are taken into consideration in your performance evaluation.

A medically retired pilot has the option to become a simulator or ground instructor but not a flight instructor. The pay will generally be much lower than that of a pilot.

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