written by: Eli Misel•edited by: Jason C. Chavis•updated: 7/14/2010
If you have ever considered acquiring a private pilot license and have a significant illness or disability, you should know that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has protocols for those who do not meet the medical requirements for their certificate.
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Pilot Medical Examination
The first step in acquiring a pilot license when disabled is to pass a flight physical performed by a certified Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). The FAA instituted the AME Assisted Special Issuance (AASI) process which has set rules for what certification qualifications are available to disabled person who wants to acquire pilots license. A medical certificate under special issuance may be issued by the examining physician, which is essentially a waiver for a disqualifying condition. Disabilities are evaluated on a case-by-case basis with some requiring special issuance from the FAA directly.
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A medical certificate under special issuance may have restrictions applied for safety reasons. For example, a pilot who is color blind may not be allowed to fly at night. It is possible to have a restriction removed at the discretion of a Federal Air Surgeon by granting a Statement of Demonstrated Ability (SODA).
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Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Requirements
Once a flight physical has been passed and certificate issued, you may begin working toward your private pilot license. The FAA has set additional requirements that you must complete in order to obtain your pilot certificate.
You must be at least 17 years of age to be eligible for a private pilot certificate, although training may begin at any age.
Be able to read, speak, write and understand the English language. If you are unable to meet one of these requirements, it is still possible to obtain a private pilot license with operating limitations.
Log a minimum of 40 hours of flight time including 20 hours with a certified flight instructor and 10 hours of solo flight.
Pass the FAA Private Pilot Airmen Knowledge written exam.
Pass an oral exam administered by an FAA certified examiner or check instructor.
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A few things you should take into consideration outside of the FAA requirements are time and money. The minimum flight time to obtain a private pilot certificate is 40 hours, although most students are not ready for the practical exam until 60 to 70 hours of total flight time. Having an illness or disability may increase the amount of hours needed to prepare for testing. The length of your training also greatly depends on how often your flight lessons take place. Full time flight school programs can be completed in a few weeks, while part time students can take up to six months or more. You should plan on investing in the range of $6,000 to $10,000, with costs varying greatly by region. Most flight schools will let you pay as you go, although discounts may be given for scheduling several lessons in advance.
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Acquiring a private pilot license when disabled can be a challenging and rewarding experience. The main thing to remember is to have fun and fly safe!