As a would-be pilot, you have most likely heard about the FAA medical exam. But what exactly is it, what does it entail, and what happens after it’s been completed? These are some of the questions we’ll answer today so you can approach your own future exam with confidence.
What Is the FAA Medical Exam?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the government agency that regulates air travel in the United States. As part of its commitment to safety, the FAA has minimum standards in regards to the physical and mental conditions of pilots. The FAA medical exam measures whether or not these individuals meet the minimum health standards and a medical certificate is granted upon passing the exam.
Types of Medical Certificates for Pilots
There are three classes of medical certificates for pilots. According to the FAA, these are the types of pilots suited for each one:
- First-Class Certificate: Airline transport pilots
- Second-Class Certificate: Commercial pilots
- Third-Class Certificate: Private pilots, recreational pilots, student pilots
It’s important to note that while an FAA medical certificate is not legally required to start flight training, it is required by regulations before a student can solo an aircraft. A student solo happens early in flight training, so it is a good idea to obtain an FAA medical as soon as possible, ideally before training begins. A Third-Class Medical Certificate will completely suffice for flight training and beyond; however, if desiring a career as a professional pilot, it is recommended to initially apply for a First-Class Medical Certificate.
An FAA medical exam must be completed in order for the first issuance of a medical certificate to take place. And, follow-up exams must be taken at specific intervals in order for the certificate to be renewed – the interval spacing is based on the specific medical certificate class.
How Do You Take an Aviation Medical Exam?
The FAA medical exam must be performed by an Aviation Medical Examiner who has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, otherwise known as an AME. Here are the basic steps to getting scheduled for your exam:
- Step 1: Fill out an online application. Use the FAA’s MedXPress website to electronically complete your application. The application will ask pertinent identity and health questions that will be available for your AME to review during your exam.
- Step 2: Find a local AME. Use the FAA’s tool for finding a local Aviation Medical Examiner and schedule an appointment that works for you.
What to Expect When Taking the FAA Medical Exam
With your application completed and an appointment scheduled, it’s a good idea to remember the importance of the exam you’re about to take. While it doesn’t require hours of studying in advance, and many people pass it on the first try, you should definitely take it seriously. After all, the results of the FAA medical exam will essentially give or deny you the permission to fly.
How to Prepare for Your Aviation Medical Exam
During the days leading up to your exam, follow these tips so you will be as prepared as possible:
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Avoid meals with high sugar content as they can affect urinalysis results.
- Refrain from drinking caffeinated beverages or taking stimulant medications (such as decongestants).
- Bring any glasses or corrective lenses you normally wear to your exam.
- If this is NOT your first FAA medical exam and there have been surgeries or other health concerns since your last certificate was issued, bring all related documentation. Any information you have that proves your medical wellbeing can help prevent delays in the AME renewing your medical certificate.
On the day of your exam, you can expect the visit to last approximately 30 minutes. During this time, the examiner will ask about or test a variety of things. How in-depth the examination is will depend on which medical certificate class you’re looking to receive. For example, a Third-Class Medical Certificate may include only some of the items in the list below but a First-Class Medical Certificate will likely include all of them.
What the AME May Look at During Your FAA Medical Exam:
- Eyesight – Your near, intermediate, peripheral, far, and color vision will be tested.
- Hearing – According to FAA regulations, you must be able to acceptably understand speech and be able to hear a conversational voice in a quiet room at a distance of 6 feet away.
- Urinalysis – This is done to look for any indicators of diabetes and/or kidney disease.
- Nose, throat, balance – For safety reasons, pilots should not have any nose, throat, or equilibrium related health conditions that are aggravated by flying or would interfere with the ability to communicate effectively.
- Heart health – Depending on the type of medical certificate, there are some heart health concerns that could result in failure of the medical exam. First-Class Medical Certificate recipients, for example, cannot have a history of heart replacement or even replacement of cardiac valves.
- Mental and neurological health – The examiner will look for or ask about the history of such conditions as personality disorders, epilepsy, substance abuse, or any other condition that would interfere with your ability to safely and effectively do what is required of you.
- Physical exam – This may include questions about prior surgeries, doctor’s visits, and any medications you’re currently taking or have taken in the past.
What Happens After You Take the FAA Medical Exam?
Upon completion of the FAA medical exam, the AME will make one of the following three determinations:
- Approved – If all of your documentation is in order and the examiner deems you medically fit, you will be issued a medical certificate based upon the class for which you applied. This means you can start flight training if you’re a new aspiring pilot, or keep flying if this exam was for a renewal certificate.
- Denied – If the examiner finds you don’t meet the medical requirements of the class you’re testing for, they can deny your application. You are still allowed to appeal to the FAA, however, so a denial doesn’t necessarily mean you’re cut off from flying for good.
- Deferred – If the AME finds something questionable during the exam, they can defer your application. This may allow you to make changes which could result in an approval later on. For example, if you currently take a medication that’s NOT approved for flying but change to one that IS, you may be able to reschedule the exam at a later date and be approved for a medical certificate then.
Flight Training for Teen Pilots
At Rising Aviation High School in Addison, TX, we encourage teens to pursue their love of aviation through our aviation based academic programs, teen pilot camps, and discovery flights. Our students are trained by expert flight instructors and upon graduation from our private high school, students can continue to pursue an aviation career.
To learn more about our aviation high school experience for Dallas area teens, contact us today!