Student pilots working towards their Private Pilot Certificate will need to have a Third Class Medical Certificate prior to solo. An Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) is a doctor who has been approved by the FAA to evaluate applicants and grant medical certificates. The guidelines for granting a medical certificate can be quite stringent. If you have any medical history, conditions, are being treated by a doctor, or are taking any medications, you should discuss this with an AME prior to beginning your medical application. One way of thinking about this – if you need to answer “YES” to any question in section 18 then it is worth having a quick discussion with an AME before filling out the application. The AME that I recommend has been very willing to have a phone discussion to address specific concerns. Possible outcomes from that discussion are
- You should have no issues. Go ahead and fill out the application and let’s schedule an appointment
- Describe your condition using these exact words – often the layperson’s description of a condition may cause confusion or delays.
- You will need submit additional documentation with your application – this is often test results that you will need to gather and/or letters from your treating physician. Failing to get this documentation together prior to applying can cause your application to be deferred, which can then take months to correct, delaying your training. This happened with a student with asthma – while the student didn’t feel that the asthma restricted their activity in any way, the FAA needed documentation.
- Don’t apply for a medical – you will be denied. There are conditions and medications that the FAA considers to be disqualifying. This happened recently with a potential student on Ritalin.
Classes of Medical
3rd Class Medicals are valid for 60 calendar months. If you receive it prior to your 40th birthday (receive on 5/24/23 and it is valid until 5/31/28). If you are over 40, then a 3rd Class Medical is valid for 24 calendar months (receive on 5/24/23 and it’s valid until 5/31/25).
2nd Class medical certificates are required for commercial pilots and 1st class medical certificates are required for airline pilots. If you think you might need a 2nd class medical in the near future, you can apply for a 2nd class instead of a 3rd class; the differences in the medical tests are very slight (an additional eye test and the need for 20/20 vs 20/40 vision).
Sport Pilots are only required to have a valid driver’s license, but cannot have been denied a medical certificate. Translation – if you apply for a medical and are denied, you will have also eliminated the one option for becoming a pilot that does not require a medical certificate (Sport pilot has many limitations, but is used by some pilots who would otherwise be unable to fly an airplane).
For private pilots, once you have a Third Class Medical, it is possible to later operate under the requirements of Basic Med. This allows you to use your primary care physician instead on AME, but one of the requirements is to have held a valid 3rd class medical after July 14, 2006, so all private pilot students must get a 3rd class medical
Finding a doctor
FAA medical examinations are performed by Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs). A local option is John T Phillipp (Glendora); his hours for examinations are very flexible. I used Dr. Phillipp for my last 4 medicals (as of 2023). Several pilots I know have had very good luck with him for difficult medical cases and he has been very willing to discuss any possible issues over the phone prior to your application or appointment. The FAA does have a search tool for finding AMES; a word of caution though – I’ve had students have bad experiences with some AMEs, so I would recommend getting some recommendations from local pilots/instructors rather than choosing one randomly from the list. AMEs set their own rates and schedules. I paid $75 for my medical in 2021 and was able to schedule a few days ahead.
What is involved?
A 3rd class medical is meant to ensure you are healthy enough to be a pilot. As of 2012, the FAA has moved to an online medical application, MedExpress. Be careful in filling out the online application and refer to the online help. You should submit the application prior to your appointment and print the form out and bring to your appointment. At the doctor’s office, you’ll also be asked to give a urine sample (diabetes screening). The doctor will look over your application and make sure it is filled out fully and properly. The examination will include an eye test, a test of your reflexes, listening to your lungs, checking your heart rate and blood pressure, and the general poking and prodding you expect during most physical examinations.
If all goes well, the doctor (or his assistant) will prepare your medical certificate. You’ll generally be done in much less than an hour if you properly prepared.