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Thread: Medical special issuance vs training, fallback plans if can't solo?

  1. #1
    vibster's Avatar
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    Question Medical special issuance vs training, fallback plans if can't solo?

    Hi all! I've always had it in the back of my mind to someday try to learn to fly small planes, and in my middle age I'm now seriously researching it, dithering between private pilot and sport pilot as goals. (Daytime VFR flying is all I really want to do.) The biggest roadblock is that I have a mental health condition which would require me to get a special issuance medical even for the sport pilot license, which involves proving I'm under a state-licensed doctor's care and that I'm managed and safe to fly. My understanding is these can get backlogged in the bureaucracy and even then it's not a sure thing you'll get it.

    So I feel like I want to be prepared for the possibility that I can't pass the medical and would be unable to fly solo under the private pilot or sport pilot rules.

    In such a circumstance, realistically speaking will I still be able to hire an instructor to take the lessons I would take for, say, the sport pilot license, then just not do the solo flying? That would still get me cockpit time (fun and educational) while still being under the instructor's supervision (safe). Would typical instructors at a small airport be happy to arrange that or would I need to do some fast talking?

    For folks who have dealt with getting a special issuance on the medical, what sort of delays or problems did you have? Is it something that is reasonable to pursue, or trickier than it seems?

    Thanks in advance for any help! I'm new here and still working out where to best direct my efforts learning.

  2. #2
    MEdwards's Avatar
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    PM sent.

  3. #3
    vibster's Avatar
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    Thanks! Sounds like helpful advice.

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    lnuss's Avatar
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    So I feel like I want to be prepared for the possibility that I can't pass the medical and would be unable to fly solo under the private pilot or sport pilot rules.

    In such a circumstance, realistically speaking will I still be able to hire an instructor to take the lessons I would take for, say, the sport pilot license, then just not do the solo flying? That would still get me cockpit time (fun and educational) while still being under the instructor's supervision (safe). Would typical instructors at a small airport be happy to arrange that or would I need to do some fast talking?
    Obviously I can't see the PM, so I'm sorry for any duplication. But assuming that this mental condition won't cause potential problems for the instructor (violence, fighting the controls, etc.) I suspect that you could, at the least, be able to find an instructor who'd still give you training. A number of years back (in the '70s) a young man who had vision problems (coke bottle glasses) that precluded ever getting a pilot certificate, came to our flight school to "spend my Navy bonus." He was an absolute ball to fly with and so obviously was having a LOT of fun that he made a big impression on me about living life to the full. BTW, he even did pretty well in the flying, in spite of his visual limitations.

    So, depending on your actual condition, it may well be possible to do this.

    Larry N.

  5. #5
    DaleB's Avatar
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    Assuming you are able to hold a state issued driver's license, you would not need an SI for a Sport Pilot certificate, since you don't need a medical certificate at all. If on the other hand you don't have a driver's license, then my guess would be a very long and expensive SI process with, of course, no guarantee of success.

    If you apply for a medical and SI and get denied, you'll be limited to ultralights, balloons, and gliders. That may not be a bad solution, depending on your goals. There are "self launching gliders" that are the equal of Light Sport airplanes in many respects, and if your plans don't include long distance travel there are plenty of ultralights, paramotors, and so on.

    All that said, I doubt you'd have much trouble finding instructors who would be happy to give you extended flight training for the rest of your natural life, no fast talking needed. There's always a way.
    Measure twice, cut once...
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  6. #6
    Dana's Avatar
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    Unless you've already applied for and been denied a medical, you don't need a special issuance to fly as a Sport Pilot. All you need is a state driver's license.

  7. #7
    Eric Page's Avatar
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    This is what they're talking about: https://www.aopa.org/advocacy/pilots/medical/basicmed
    Eric Page
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  8. #8
    vibster's Avatar
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    Thanks for the info & replies so far! I'm still researching and this is all helpful.

    I do have a state driver's license, and haven't done the medical yet (so no failures logged, or SI process started), so I guess it comes down to the reading of 14 CFR Part 61.303:

    A person using a U.S. driver's license to meet the requirements of this paragraph must -

    (1) Comply with each restriction and limitation imposed by that person's U.S. driver's license and any judicial or administrative order applying to the operation of a motor vehicle;

    (2) Have been found eligible for the issuance of at least a third-class airman medical certificate at the time of his or her most recent application (if the person has applied for a medical certificate);

    (3) Not have had his or her most recently issued medical certificate (if the person has held a medical certificate) suspended or revoked or most recent Authorization for a Special Issuance of a Medical Certificate withdrawn; and

    (4) Not know or have reason to know of any medical condition that would make that person unable to operate a light-sport aircraft in a safe manner.
    It's the subparagraph 4 that worries me -- I can say I believe I'm safe to fly under sport pilot rules, but do I run a risk of the FAA deciding otherwise, and what sort of enforcement action is possible? Eg, if they just ground me until I can pass a medical with a special issuance, that's fine -- even if it ends up being impossible to get the SI, I'd feel like I went through proper procedure. But if they fine me for every flight I've ever made that would be un-fun!

    I do know that since the LSA and Sport Pilot spec limitations and operational rules are more limited they're a bit laxer on the medical stuff, so I understand if it literally is a more lax entry point to flight, because there's less danger from someone's health taking a surprise turn for the worse. It's also good to figure out just what the rules are.

    In a pinch, ultralights are also definitely a possibility for me to explore to get my 'fly a bit' experience, and remain a fallback position -- as well as something I might due to just "build my own" even if I can also fly big-kid planes!

    Thanks again for advice so far; I'm going to do more research on the sport pilot + driver's license situation specifically to see if I can get a firmer picture of things!

  9. #9
    Dana's Avatar
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    Paragraph 4 means that you, in your own reasonable opinion, have no medical issues that would prevent a safe flight today. The only time the FAA would ever look at it is if your medical condition, that you know of, causes you to have an accident.

  10. #10
    Eric Page's Avatar
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    Dana is exactly right. All pilots have to assess their fitness to fly before each and every flight. If you're having a rough day and you don't feel that flying is a safe activity today, then don't fly. If your doctor put you on a new medication, wait a week or two before you fly again to see if there are any side-effects. As long as you're responsible about making an honest assessment of yourself, your doctor is aware that you fly and hasn't advised against it, and none of your medications carry an advisory against operating motor vehicles or machinery, you should be fine.

    Oh, and I'm not a lawyer.

    If you have specific questions, my advice would be to join AOPA, then call them and ask to speak to an aeromedical advisor. Details here: https://aopa.org/go-fly/medical-resources
    Eric Page
    Building Kitfox Series 5
    Member: EAA, AOPA, ALPA
    ATP: MEL / Comm: SEL, Glider / ATCS: CTO
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