Should Diabetic Pilots Be Allowed to Fly?

Published: 10-21-2019
Diabetes continues to rise in America. Can diabetics get a proper medical certification to fly commercial airlines? Should they?

At the end of 1996, the FAA, or Federal Aviation Administration, updated the pilot disqualification policy to allow diabetic pilots, specifically those insulin-dependent, to earn their third-class medical certificate. This decision was controversial at the time due to the fact that diabetes "can never be eliminated.''

Nonetheless, this decision prevented pilots from receiving a first or second-class medical certificate. Diabetics could not fly commercial airlines, but this decision wouldn’t last forever.

Evidence to Support Insulin-Dependent Pilots

Fast-forward to 2015, when the FAA issued a report stating that diabetes is "statistically associated with aviation accidents". And at the same time, diabetes rose in pilots.

For example, the report reveals the number of diabetic cases in civil pilots rose from 0.5% to 1.6% between 1983 and 2005. That said, after further examining the somewhat alarming statistic, evidence shows that [A]irmen with diabetes controlled by insulin did not reveal any evidence that the diabetes condition played a role in the accident occurrence."

So is there a correlation with no causation?

After outlining the risks associated with disease, the FAA ruled that being insulin-dependent is just one marker for determining if a pilot is "high-risk". They go on to confirm that the disease alone is not enough to medically disqualify a pilot from flying.

Nevertheless, the 2015 report mentioned above, dubbed the “Risk Assessment in the U.S. Pilot Population From 1983 to 2005: Diabetes Prevalence and Flight Safety” resulted in the continued ban on insulin-dependent pilots from flying commercial, due to the medical certification.

Diabetics Can Fly Commercial

Not too long after the “Risk Assessment” report, the FAA issued the following statement:

“First and second-class applicants will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the Federal Air Surgeon’s Office.”

This announcement would seemingly allow diabetics to fly commercial, but despite this announcement, to-date the FAA has yet to give any Class I or II medical certifications to insulin-dependent diabetics.

According to a statement made by the FAA to Fox46, “We have not found any airman whose risk profile is sufficiently low,” and “[T]he risk of subtle or sudden incapacitation due to hypoglycemia” is a major concern.

That said, diabetics typically know how to manage their symptoms to prevent passing out when their blood sugar is not on point. In addition, those who are insulin-dependent usually have insulin on them, and have no problem telling someone how to administer a shot. Additionally, diabetic pilots could also use a diabetic alert dog to let them know in advance.

What do you think? Should we stand with potential pilots, such as Christopher Hanrahan, a diabetic third-class medical certificate holder who has been trying since 2016 to fly commercial?

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