The Aviation Medical

Am I fit enough to fly an aeroplane solo?

Posted by Owain Abraham-Williams on Wednesday 17th June 2015

Anyone can learn to fly, regardless of age, health or even eyesight. But not everyone can qualify as a pilot. Along with the theory exams and skill test you also need to log a certain number of solo flying hours. And in order to fly on your own you need an aviation medical certificate.

There are several different medical certificates available, the one you choose will depend on the type of flying you want to do once you qualify. If you want to fly professional you need what’s called a Class 1 Medical Certificate. If you just want to fly as a hobby but want a full Private Pilot Licence (PPL) you will need a Class 2 Medical Certificate. If you are training for the Light Aircraft Pilot Licence (LAPL) then you’ll just need a LAPL Medical Certificate.

In order get a certificate, first you must attend a medical examination, this will involve checking your pulse, blood pressure, urine, eyesight and hearing as well as going through your medical history to check you’re fit to fly.

A LAPL medical examination can usually be conducted by your GP and is similar to that required for a HGV licence, the other two have to be done by a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approved Aeromedical Examiner (AME). You should be able to find an AME relatively close to your home, the CAA website has a Medical Examiners Database Search which will list all the medical examiners in your area.

A Class 2 medical will usually be conducted in a local GP surgery, or even in the medical examiner’s home and will take about an hour to complete. An initial Class 1 medical on the other hand can only be carried out at a designated aeromedical centre, either at the CAA in Gatwick or NATS in Swanwick or Prestwick and will probably take 4 or more hours to complete.

Class 2 Medical Certificate

I am most interested in flying for a hobby, rather than professionally. However, I would like the ability to add additional ratings to my licence and be permitted to fly anywhere in the world, so a Private Pilot Licence (PPL) is what I want. For this I will need a Class 2 Medical Certificate, I could choose to start learning to fly without getting this but I’d need it before I can fly solo.

In Jason Smart’s book Take Your Wings and Fly - A Journey Through a Private Pilot’s Licence (which I reviewed in a previous blog post) he mentions a student who started learning to fly before getting his medical certificate. He ended up failing because of a problem with his hearing he didn’t know about. He had to give up flying after spending over £1,000 on lessons. I decided I wasn’t going to risk it and contacted a local Aeromedical Examiner (AME) to arrange an appointment.

I was told that for an initial assessment I would need an eye form (Ophthalmology Form MED162) to be completed by an optician and I should fill in the MED160 application form as fully as possible prior to my appointment. I was also told that for a class 2 medical I wouldn’t need an electrocardiogram until I was over 40, an audiogram is only required for the Instrument Rating (IR) and a haemoglobin test is only required if there is a specific clinical reason. If I were to go for the Class 1 then I’d need to have all of these.

The Examination

I was really quite nervous before my examination, I have asthema, eczema and hay-fever, my mother has glaucoma (which I convinced myself means I do too), I’m a bit overweight and I enjoy a drink with friends perhaps a little too often. All-in-all it’s a clinical miracle I am even alive!

I shouldn’t have got myself so worked up. It only increased my blood pressure and I had to lay down for 5 minutes relaxing before the final blood pressure reading could be taken as before that the results were too high. Asthema, eczema and hay-fever can all be treated with normal medicines and still be fit to fly. This is the same for many other common conditions.

You will often hear people say that you need good eyesight to fly. However, this is only true for fighter pilots. To learn to fly you just can’t have bad eyesight. Even if your eyesight is below a certain range you can usually wear spectacles or contact lenses and still fly. My eyesight was fine.

Before I could be issued with a medical certificate I was asked to speak with my doctor and have a measurement taken with a peak flow meter as well as disclosure of my medical history relating to asthema. I booked in with my GP the following Monday and he saw no reason why I wouldn’t be able to fly. The whole process (which included the optician’s report, medical examination, CAA Administration fee and GP fees) cost me £153.

In this morning’s post there was a letter from my aeromedical examiner saying that everything was fine, I am now the owner of a “European Union Class 2 Medical Certificate pertaining to a Part-FCL licence”. This is a huge relief, it means I can confidently start learning to fly safe in the knowledge that I meet the medical requirements to be a pilot.