Fit to fly

Tips for passing the medical

Has it always been your dream to take to the skies and experience the freedom of piloting an aircraft? The question is: do you have what it takes physically? Can you tick off the boxes of what is needed? To answer your questions. Let’s look at the health requirements of the different types of pilot licences.

The Private Pilot Licence (PPL)
If your desire is simply to be an aircraft owner or aviation hobbyist, this is the only licence you will need. This type of licence allows you to fly an aircraft with passengers on board but you are not permitted to charge people for the privilege as it is not a commercial licence. If you want to enrol to be a commercial pilot however, a PPL is still the first step.

To be a private pilot you need to pass either a Class I (required for a Commercial Pilot’s Licence) or simply a Class II Medical Examination and then you need to apply for a Student Pilot's Licence (SPL) to begin your training. For a PPL licence the medical standards are not as high as those in general aviation. You will be relieved to hear that this means that you don’t need to be the glowing picture of perfect health in order to pass. It is a myth that you need to have 20/20 vision to be a pilot. With modern medical science bad eyesight can often be corrected with glasses or contact lenses.

As mentioned, a Class I Medical Certificate is required for a CPL and it must be renewed annually. Older pilots have to renew their medical certificates more often to check that they are still physically fit to fly. Once again you do not require perfect health or perfect eyesight. Glasses or contact lenses are permitted and there are no height requirements.

Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL)
Dreaming bigger? Do you imagine yourself in the cockpit of a 747? With an ATPL, a commercial pilot has the licence to command any aircraft weighing more than 5 700kg and undertake any public transport flights.

For an ATPL a Class I Medical Certificate is required and it needs to be renewed every year. Older pilots are requested to submit six-monthly medical reports to ensure that they are in good health. The great news is the medical requirements are the same as those for the other commercial pilot’s licences and are not nearly as stringent as those needed for the airforce.

Licences for the South African Airforce
Do you think you have what it takes to join the airforce? There is a rigorous selection process and only the top candidates make it through. Interestingly of over 4 000 applicants every year, only an average of 30 individuals make the cut.

The medical requirements are extremely high and the person has to be considered 100% fit and be classified as G1K1 by a medical examiner. The tickboxes include: 6/6 vision without any need for lenses, no hearing impairments and very specific height and weight measurements. Only those who fit the mould are up for this one!

How do I go about getting my flight medical?
No matter what type of licence you are after you will need to pass a medical and your GP cannot do the examination. You need to see a DAME and by this we don’t mean a noble lady! A DAME is a Designated Aviation Medical Examiner who is qualified to assess the individual and issue a valid medical certificate.

What will the checkup involve? This depends on the class of medical certificate you need but generally speaking, aviation medicals involve checking eye sight (by an approved optometrist), hearing (in a sound booth), lung function, blood pressure, weight, urine, and sometimes an ECG is requested. An x-ray is needed for the first visit only, unless there is medical reason for further x-rays.

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