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Pilots with diabetes can now fly commercial aircraft

The Civil Aviation Authority has announced that qualified pilots and air traffic controllers can carry out full duties including flying commercial aircraft.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has announced that qualified pilots and air traffic controllers with diabetes treated with insulin and other medications may now be considered for medical certificates enabling them to carry out full operation duties including flying commercial aircraft.

Licensed pilots and air traffic controllers will need to demonstrate good overall control of their condition before gaining medical qualifications to fly. Pilots with diabetes have already been able to fly recreationally since 2002, but the new policy allows full private flying privileges once medical requirements are met.

Dr Stuart Mitchell, Head of the Authority Medical Section of the CAA’s Medical Department, said: “This decision will benefit many qualified pilots and air traffic controllers, who are currently restricted to non-operational duties because of their diabetes. With the appropriate level of monitoring to ensure safety standards are met, we believe it is right that these experienced individuals are allowed to contribute their valuable skills and knowledge in their chosen field.”

Douglas Cairns is a former RAF pilot instructor and holder of 12 aviation speed records. Speaking on behalf of the group Pilots With Diabetes, formed in 2007 to promote flying with insulin treated diabetes, Mr Cairns said: “The UK is now understood to be the second country in the world after Canada to enable commercial flying with diabetes, and is the only country to enable both commercial flying and full private flying privileges. There have been positive developments for recreational flying with diabetes already over the last 10 years in the UK. It is now a very positive step for pilots with diabetes, and indeed people with diabetes, to see the introduction of both commercial and full private flying opportunities.”

Guidance will shortly be issued by the CAA to pilots and air traffic controllers setting out the new procedures. This will include details of operational restrictions and in-flight testing regimens.

The CAA has also announced that GPs will be able to assess the fitness of pilots applying for the new pan-European Light Aircraft Pilot’s Licence. The licence, which came into effect on 17 September 2012 as part of major reforms to pilot licensing across the EU, will only be valid if the applicant holds a valid medical certificate. In the UK this can be obtained from a GP. 

However, as previously, only GPs with specialist training in aviation medicine, approved by the CAA as aeromedical examiners will be able to issue medical certificates for other types of pilot licences.

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