Updated: Jul 22, 2020
How fit and healthy must you be to fly as a Private Pilot and for other licenses?
Can you see your GP for your flight medical?
The short answer: NO! Unless of course your GP is a DAME, and I don't mean a pretty lady! DAME = Designated Aviation Medical Examiner. There are three categories of DAMEs:
Regular DAME - may only issue Class 2 and 4 medical certificates
Senior DAME - may issue all 4 Classes of medical certificates, once proven worthy.
Foreign DAME - a doctor approved by the CAA to conduct SACAA approved medical examinations, living outside South African borders.
Most folk are fit enough to fly. There are a few serious conditions that will exclude you completely, and others that will limit the type of license you can get.
There are four Classes of Medical Certificates:
Class 1: valid 12 or 06 months - Career Pilot Class 2: valid 60 or 24 months or 12 months - Private Pilot Class 3: valid 48 or 24 months or 12 months - Air Traffic Controller Class 4: valid 60 or 36 months - Recreational Pilot
The Medical Checkup
You do not have to be absolutely glowing with radiant health to pass a flight medical. You just have to be reasonably healthy. If you wear glasses, that's okay too, glasses will most likely be endorsed on your medical certificate as a requirement though.
Aviation medicals check your eye sight, (usually done separately by an approved optometrist-the doctors office will tell you who they use), your hearing, (in a sound booth), your lung function, blood pressure, weight, urine, and, every alternate visit, an ECG. You need an x-ray for the first visit only, (unless something happens to your health requiring you to have another one done).
All aviation medical certificates are valid effective immediately upon completion of your examination, and will remain valid, depending on the Class and your age, from six months for Class 1 to 60 months, (five years), for Class 4.
Medical certificates will expire at the end of the period at the end of the month. For example, if I were to do my flight medical on 13 May 2011, and it is valid for a year, it will expire on 31 May 2012. It would not matter whether I did my aviation medical on 29 May, 1 May, 23 May, any day in May, it would still expire the following year on the last day of May.
Frequency of Flight Medicals:
How frequently you have to be re-examined for your medical, is dependent on your age. If you are less than 40 years of age when your medical certificate is issued, you are given the benefit of the doubt and your medical is issued as a younger person.
If you are 40 or older when you do your medical, it is usually valid for a shorter time than that of a younger person.
Minimum Medical Class for a PPL:
For a PPL you will need a Class 2. If you want to become a Career Pilot,(Commercial, Airline Transport, Instructor, Agricultural Pilot, Surveyor etc.), you will need to be able to pass a Class 1. (Class 4 is for purely recreational pilots, and Class 3 is for air traffic controllers).
The table below simplifies the requirements:
If you have some sort of disease or risk factor, you will be required to send a report to the CAA every 6 months, calculated from the day of the medical exam where your medical lasts only 6 months.
Although you don't need a Class 1 medical for a PPL license, you can choose to get it if you wish. The only advantage to getting a Class 1 medical prior to earning your PPL is that you will have peace of mind knowing you should not be restricted medically for the higher licenses. Or you can just ask the Doc if you would get a Class 1 when you do your Class 2.
Medical Class pecking order:
If you hold a Class 1, and it expires, you are automatically downgraded to a Class 2, and would medically and legally be allowed to fly in this lower Class for the corresponding period. The same is true if a longer period passes.
Example: I am 39 years old when I do my Class 1 flight medical on 19 May 2011. I have a CPL, so my medical is valid for 12 months, until 31 May 2012. I decide I do not need my CPL anymore, and revert to a PPL. Now my same medical is valid as a Class 2 until 31 May 2016.
My original Class 1 medical is still valid, as a Class 2, until 31 May 2016. This is because I did my medical before I turned 40!
If I did the same medical when I was 40, my Class 1 would be valid until 31 May 2012, Class 2 would be valid until 31 May 2013.
The advantage of doing a Class 2 medical is that if you don't need a Class 1, the Class 2 is cheaper to do, as it lasts longer.
I may not exercise the privileges of my higher license without having the appropriate valid medical class.
Reasons why aviation medicals could be denied:
You do not have to be ultra fit, or a health nut to pass an aviation medical. You can even wear glasses and still pass, (this is not the Airforce!), there will just be an endorsement on your little rectangular medical paper that you have to keep in your pilot license booklet. The same endorsement will appear on your flight license once you receive it.
This is what your medical will look like, (it's a little bigger though), if issued on the old system. This is a Class 1 medical for a CPL holder under 40 years of age, so it was valid for 12 months.
There were no restrictions on this license.
It is VERY important to check the dates on the medical are correct. I have personally had the dates filled in incorrectly twice on two separate occasions by two different doctors' assistants. It has not only happened to me. Please check it before you leave his office! It can causes problems with the issuing of your license.
Below is an example of the A4 new-style medical. This type is supposed to arrive at the SACAA directly from the doctors rooms , but in reality, the SACAA always wants you to spoon-feed them with a copy of this medical, usually Certified. This Medical goes in your license booklet when you get one. Keep it safe. It cannot be re-printed.
Denied Medical = no flying license
There are many conditions that can affect your level of license or even prevent you from being declared medically fit to hold a license at all. They are all based in aviation safety.
If you are unsure whether you would pass the flight medical or not, then the best option is to visit an aviation medical examiner before you start spending your money on flight lessons.
It is possible to be fit enough to get a flight medical for a lower license, but not a higher license. Only a very small percentage of people are not able to pass a flight medical.
List of DAMEs - choose an aviation doctor:
You can ask your instructor or the Flying School admin staff which aviation doctor they recommend, or you can pick someone convenient from the click-able lists right at the top of this page.
I hope all your questions have been answered!