Skip to main content

Anyone Who Flies On An Airplane Should Read This Nerdy April Investigative Report

Today’s Diabetes Blog topic is about having low blood sugar and how best to treat it. However, I am going to completely bypass this topic: I’m a woman; I’m allowed to deviate, right?

You may remember yesterday when I mentioned the hard time I am having with the FAA with regards to my special issuance medical certificate. I decided to do a little more research into the issue, specifically about how many medical waivers the FAA granted last year for Type 1 Diabetics. Needless to say, I was surprised, stunned, and frustrated at the information I found…and you may be too.

I encourage you to check out the website “Pilot Medical Solutions” when you have a chance. And while I realize this website is not endorsed by the FAA directly, I think it sheds light on some of the over arching issues alive in our flight medical certification system today. Strap yourself in and put your tray tables up people.

First, just the basics: there are three types of FAA medical certificates First-Class, Second-Class, and Third-Class. Right now, Type 1 Diabetics are only allowed to attempt to receive a special issuance medical waiver for the lowest certificate: Third-Class. From the FAA website, “A third-class airman medical certificate is required to exercise the privileges of a private pilot certificate, recreational pilot certificate, a flight instructor certificate, or a student pilot certificate.” Ok, so basically a third-class medical covers your general flying activities.

Now, to be an airline pilot you must be able to obtain a First-Class medical certificate. Again, from the FAA website, “A first-class airman medical certificate is required to exercise the privileges of an airline transport pilot certificate.” Makes sense, you are holding other peoples’ lives in your hands, you better be in tip-top shape.

What doesn’t make sense to me are the number of waivers for each category (first, second, and third class) and how they are broken down by medical condition. Remember what I said earlier, I, being a Type-1 Diabetic, cannot even attempt to obtain a special issuance medical waiver for a First or Second Class Medical Certificate. In fact, according to the website I cited earlier, only 425 Type-1s were granted Class-3 medical waivers last year. Compare this number to the number of Type-2s: 559 First-Class, 1,011 Second-Class and 4,507 Third-Class medical certificates were awarded to Type-2s last year.

Here is what is really unsettling: if you check out the website the medical category listed right above "Carbohydrate Metabolism, Diabetes" is the category for “Alcohol/Drugs.” Surprisingly, if you are afflicted with “Alcoholism” you are able to appeal for a First, Second, or Third-Class medical….this means you can be an airline pilot, and from the numbers it is clear that there are a good number of Captains with a First Class medical waiver for Alcoholism. Check out the numbers (remember, just the waivers granted last year) for Alcoholism: 979 First-Class, 354 Second-Class, and 542 Third Class medical certificates.

And just to be thorough, I decided to make sure I understood the definition of “Alcoholism”: Alcoholism is drinking alcoholic beverages at a level that interferes with physical health, mental health, and social, family, or job responsibilities.

This little analysis makes it clear to me that I am being discriminated against. First of all I did not make a conscious decision to have Type-1 Diabetes, unlike the choice made to drink alcohol in an uncontrollable manner. Second, there is scientific proof that I can control myself. I am an engineer and we like numbers, and trust me, there are a looooottt of numbers to back up the statement, “She can control her Diabetes.”

But, I’m not so sure that there are many numbers (other than current blood-alcohol content) to determine “good control” of alcoholism. Plus the fact that I cannot even try to get a First-Class medical under any circumstances. [Check out the Type 1 Diabetes numbers: 0 First-Class, 0 Second-Class, and 425 Third-Class.] For even more proof of discrimination check out the numbers for “Drug Dependence”: 43 First-Class, 13 Second-Class and 17 Third-Class. The ONLY other conditions that deny First and Second Class waivers are complete organ transplants.

I’m not even sure why I am writing this rambly, woe-is-me post about something I can’t even change. But it is something I feel strongly about, and I guess in my mind that means some of my readers may feel strongly about it too. You can just call it my “Tuesday-Ticked-Off-Session”.


  1. Don't resign yourself to assuming this perceived discrimination is something you can't change. For example, earlier this year the FAA changed its position on granting medical certificates to pilots being treated for depression. Responding to input from pilots and doctors, and the experience of the Australian CAA (among other foreign regulatory agencies), the FAA now approves three antidepressants for use by pilots.


Post a Comment

Who has two thumbs and loves comments? Nerdy April!!! Type one out and hit publish!

Popular posts from this blog

The road to curing Type 1 Diabetes

From the moment of diagnosis, the road is rough, the learning curve is steep and the stakes are literally life or death. The map is less-than-helpful - paths originating from virtually every corner, coalescing at a center point (aka "diagnosis") and bursting back outwards - some paths cross and wrap around each other but others are isolated. And even with all of these roads, most of the territory is uncharted - how did we all get here and how will we all exit? Where are the obstacles we haven't found yet? Which passage holds the key to unlocking the solution? On any given day I feel pretty isolated with this disease - I'm the only T1D in my group at work, the only one in mission control, the only one in my family. I go through the logistics of calling insurance companies, ordering supplies, changing sites and troubleshooting malfunctions mostly on my own. Even those pesky carbs really only get counted in my brain, no group think for a meal bolus here. But there i

The Diabetes Transportation System DTS-T1

I was looking forward to the Space Shuttle launch on Monday, then it was pushed to Wednesday and now it is scheduled for Thursday due to several electrical issues from a main engine computer controller. Ironically, our little MH-47G (due to start testing on Monday originally) has been having it's own issues and it is still unclear exactly when we will start testing. And all of this uncertainty, schedule changes, and issue-working reminds me of my little friend Diabetes [come on, you knew that was coming :-)]. Even with hard work, super awesome bolusing skills [ check out Holly's blog today, the number crunching is very impressive] and constant blood sugar checks, Diabetes can still be unpredictable, necessitate schedule changes, and cause the carrier to work through the issues. I have been lucky today, even after a late-night cocktail last night, I woke up this morning at 112, and before lunch I was an amazing 113. I love being steady like that, cruising along with hardly an

What it's really like being a woman engineer in 2020

Today is International Women in Engineering Day (#INWED)! This year marks a full decade since earning an Aerospace Engineering degree, launching my journey as a woman engineer. So, what does it feel like as a woman engineer today, in 2020?  It probably comes as no surprise that women are still the minority in most engineering fields, mine included. The real statistics? At my first job out of college , women made up 10% of my group and that percentage came from only one woman: me. There were a handful of other women scattered throughout the rest of the organization but it was probably around 10% at best. I relied solely on men to teach me how to interact with military officers, when to speak up in meetings, how to don and doff flight gear and talk on the radio, how to avoid red-out during aerobatics, how to take engineering notes during night flights, how to setup and run data, how to run a pre-flight and post-flight briefing, how to conduct myself at customer sites, how to layer up an
01 09 10