Most pilots must have a valid medical certificate to exercise the privileges of their airman certificates. Glider and free balloon pilots are not required to hold a medical certificate. Sport pilots may hold either a medical certificate or a valid state driver's license. To acquire a medical certificate, an examination by an aviation medical examiner (AME), a physician with training in aviation medicine designated by the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI), is required. There are three classes of medical certificates. The class of certificate needed depends on the type of flying the pilot plans to do.
A third-class medical is required for a private or recreational pilot certificate. It is valid for 3 years for those individuals who have not reached the age of 40; otherwise it is valid for 2 years. A commercial pilot certificate requires at least a second-class medical certificate, which is valid for 1 year. First-class medical certificates are required for airline transport pilots, and are valid for 6 months.
The standards are more rigorous for the higher classes of certificates. A pilot with a higher class medical certificate has met the requirements for the lower classes as well. Since the class of medical required applies only when exercising the privileges of the pilot certificate for which it is required, a first class medical would be valid for 1 year if exercising the privileges of a commercial certificate, and 2 or 3 years, as appropriate, for exercising the privileges of a private or recreational certificate. The same applies for a second-class medical certificate. The standards for medical certification are contained in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 67, and the requirements for obtaining medical certificates are in 14 CFR part 61.
Students who have physical limitations, such as impaired vision, loss of a limb, or hearing impairment may be issued a medical certificate valid for "student pilot privileges only" while they are learning to fly. Pilots with disabilities may require special equipment installed in the airplane, such as hand controls for pilots with paraplegia. Some disabilities necessitate a limitation on the individual's certificate; for example, impaired hearing would require the limitation "not valid for flight requiring the use of radio." When all the knowledge, experience, and proficiency requirements have been met and a student can demonstrate the ability to operate the airplane with the normal level of safety, a "statement of demonstrated ability" (SODA) can be issued. This waiver or SODA is valid as long as their physical impairment does not worsen. Contact the local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO)
for more information on this subject.