Flight Physicals & FAA Medical Evaluations for Pilots

If you want to become a private, airline or commercial pilot, you must undergo a physical examination to ensure you’re healthy enough — both physically and mentally — to be navigating the airways. The  Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) suggests you undergo a flight physical before starting flight training.


Potential pilots must be evaluated by a doctor approved by the FAA to perform flight physicals (the physical may also be known as an “FAA medical examination” or “FAA medical”). These physicians who provide these services are known as Aviation Medical Examiners (AME), and have completed the necessary training to evaluate pilots.

The 3 Types of Medical Certifications for Pilots

There are three different classes of medical certificates – find the one you’re looking for below.

Third Class Medical Certificate – Private Pilots

If you are training for, or currently hold, a private pilot license or certificate, you must be issued a “Third Class Medical Certificate” in order to pilot an aircraft. This includes pilots who fly for personal enjoyment. This certificate also allows those with a flight instructor certificate, recreational pilot certificate, or student plot certificate to exercise the rights of their respective licensures. The Class 3 medical certificate expires after 5 years, or 60 months if the pilot is under 40 years old. For private pilots over 40 years old, the medical certificate expires after 24 months.

Second Class Medical Certificate – Commercial Pilots

If you are training for, or currently hold, a commercial pilot license or certificate, you must be issued a “Second Class Medical Certificate” from an FAA approved Aviation Medical Examiner. If you want to fly folks to vacation spots or help businessmen make that next meeting aboard an American airline, you’ll need to be checked out and maintain this type of medical certificate. The Class 2 medical certificate expires after 12 months, regardless of age.

First Class Medical Certificate - Airline Transport Pilots

If you are training to become an Airline Transport Pilot, you must be evaluated by a certified AME in order to be given the First Class Medical Certificate. This certificate is good for 12 months for those under 40 years of age, and 6 months for those over 40 when a First Class certificate is required to operate. When a 2nd Class medical certificate is required, the 1st Class certificate is good for 12 months. When a 3rd Class medical certificate is required, this 1st Class certificate is good for 24 or 60 months.

Failed Your Flight Physical? Here’s What You Can Do…

If you failed a flight physical and were sent a letter from the FAA outlining the denial of a pilot’s medical certification, there are certain steps you can take for reconsideration. If your certificate was denied by an Aviation Medical Examiner, you’re within your rights to appeal the denial by “the Manager, FAA Aerospace Medical Certification Division (AMCD) or an FAA Regional Flight Surgeon (RFS).” Alternatively, if your medical certificate was “deferred,” the RFS or AMCD will automatically review your application. After they look it over, you would be notified of the final decision.

After being denied a medical certificate, if you believe you meet the standards for unrestricted medical certification, you need to lobby for a review of the FAA denial with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The NTSB maintains legal authority in reviewing flight physical outcomes. To take this route, you must file a petition (which can be in the form of a standard letter) with the  Office of Administrative Law Judges, NTSB, within 60 days of the date or postmark of your denial from the FAA.

For those who do not meet the requirements for unrestricted medical certification, there is an alternative route you can take. In this scenario, the FAA may provide a “special issuance.” In this scenario, the decision rests entirely with the FAA — the NTSB does not play a role, as they do not hold congressional authority in the granting or denial of these “special issuance” FAA medial certificates.

Types of Conditions That Prevent You From Passing Your Flight Physical…

A wide range of medical conditions can prevent you from being issued an airman medial certificate under the standards outlined in Part 67 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. These include a diagnosis, or medical history of…

  • Eye Conditions (Note: You must have 20/20 distant visual acuity; 20/40 or better “near vision”; You must not be colorblind; You must have normal fields of vision)
  • Ear, Nose, Throat & Equilibrium Conditions
  • Mental Conditions & Disorders
  • Neurological Disorders & Conditions (such as epilepsy, a condition characterized by seizures)
  • Cardiovascular Conditions (those affecting the heart & circulation)
  • Other General Medical Conditions

Additionally, here are some specific conditions that would prevent you from passing a flight physical

Substance Abuse & Dependence; Heart Disease; Myocardial Infarction; Angina Pectoris; Cardiac Valve Replacement; Permanent Pacemaker; Heart Transplant; Bipolar Disorder, Epilepsy & Other Seizure Disorders; Diabetes Mellitus; Psychosis;

Is Flying your Dream? Learn How to Become a Pilot…

Many people dream of piloting an aircraft from a young age – it’s certainly an attainable goal if it’s something you’re serious about. Learn more about how to become a pilot and the steps you can take toward your dream job.

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