Dr Larry, Last week we received a great question from a friend of mine in the UK who is concerned about her daughter who dreams of becoming a pilot.
“Just thought I would ask a question about Lauren. She has very slight spastic diplegia that hardly affects her in any way (ankles slightly stiff.) Would she pass a medical in order to fly solo? She has never had any blood pressure problems, or fits or seizures, and is fit and works out hard. Putting off getting her a medical in case she is not allowed to fly solo, that would wreck her dream.” Jo.
Getting back to the question regarding the young girl with “spastic diplegia,” once in awhile it's nice to know the outcome before reading the book. Judging from the brief synopsis of young Lauren’s disorder, it's very likely she has a future in aviation!
When Lauren initially seeks medical certification, two questions need to be addressed in order for the FAA to make a decision. First, does a person have a disorder or disability that potentially restricts their ability to pilot an airplane? If yes, the second question is, how significant is that disorder or disability? Keep in mind the ultimate ruling is based on a person's ability to safely pilot an aircraft.
In Lauren's case, her disorder is a form of cerebral palsy, and depending upon one's prior experience with CP patients, this might raise concern for pilot-in-command duties. Upon further evaluation, we note her symptoms are minimal and appear to have little impact on her day-to-day abilities.
It’s this second part which is critical to the certification piece. For any disorder, whether it is heart bypass, adult onset diabetes, prior limb amputation or cerebral palsy, showing stability of the disorder and ability to operate an aircraft safely makes certification likely. Even some airplanes can be adapted for people with disabilities, much like cars and bicycles, allowing for an even wider range of certification.
To proceed, Lauren would need a detailed neurologic evaluation addressing her history, coordination, strength, functional limitations, mental status and prognosis. She may also need a medical flight test to demonstrate PIC capabilities in much the same way we do for our driver’s license.
Substitute any number of disorders for Lauren’s scenario and the process is essentially the same. Note the disorder, define the functional limitations and show airworthiness with minimal potential for incapacitation and certification can be obtained. Work with your regional FAA flight surgeon. They can provide the questions to be answered ahead of time to avoid delays and duplication. With determination and desire, the medical certificate is within reach. Enjoy the ride!
Advanced Senior AME
Heart Attack and Stroke Prevention
Family and Sports Medicine
Dr. Larry, Thank you for the great information.I'm sure this is great news for Lauren and everyone else who might have something that otherwise thought disabling.
Enjoy the Journey!