The Medical Certificate
The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), the division of the Department of Transportation that oversees the nation’s pilots, airways, and airplanes, insists that pilots be in reasonably good health so that we don’t have too many airplanes falling out of the sky with critically ill pilots at the wheel. It’s only fair to you, your passengers, and those on the ground that you are mentally and physically fit to fly.
Frankly, the medical exam for private pilots is not much of a barrier to hurdle. You’ll find that if you’re in decent health, have good eyesight (or just good glasses), and have healthy hearing or a good hearing aid, you won’t have much trouble passing the exam.
You’ll have to find a certified aviation medical examiner to administer your physical, and the cost can vary immensely, depending on your doctor. Check with your health insurer to see if your policy covers the exam. If you have to pay it out-of-pocket, expect to pay $60 or more. Call your local FAA office for a list of qualified medical examiners in your area, or ask a pilot friend which doctor he or she uses.
There are three types of medical exam you can take: first-class, second-class, and third-class. Unless you intend to become a professional pilot, you need only a third – class medical. If you are contemplating a flying career, you should pay the extra money to receive the more stringent first – or second-class medical exam. The second – class exam qualifies you to fly commercially but not for the airlines; the first-class exam qualifies you to fly for the airlines. Getting one of these more comprehensive exams early on in your career will guarantee that, at least for the time being, you meet the more demanding health requirements necessary to become a cockpit pro. If you can’t pass it, it’s best to know now before you invest too much time and money.
By the way, your medical certificate doubles as your student pilot certificate, so take good care of it. You’re required to carry it with you any time you fly, including on your first solo flight.