Pilots of all experience levels and certification types need to maintain a certain level of health to remain in the aviation industry. After all, the rigors of working long hours at thousands of feet above ground can wear down even the most physically fit individuals. Professionals should maintain a good diet, exercise when possible, and take advantage of breaks to get much needed sleep. However, national aviation bodies not only recommend these measures, they require them for maintenance of certification for flight.
All medical certifications in the United States are run through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after a physical examination by a certified Aviation Medical Examiner. The examinations for flight certification vary depending on the level of licensing needed by individuals as well as the age of the flight professional. Typically, health standards for flight professionals are more rigorous after the age of 40.
The least rigorous medical examination level for flight professionals is the third class examination. Pilots and professionals who obtain a third class medical clearance are allowed to fly for private or recreational purposes, which essentially prohibits financial exchanges. These typically require 20/40 vision, low blood pressure, adequate blood testing, and a lack of major psychological or physiological conditions. The examination results for third class licenses are valid for three years, when a new physical must be taken for recertification.
The next level of medical examination for pilots is the second class certification. Second class certification allows pilots to fly commercially, or for hire, throughout the United States. Pilots and others who take the second class medical exam must have 20/20 vision while meeting the other requirements of the third class exam. In order to prevent people with deteriorating health from flying for hire, medical exam results for second class licenses are only valid for 12 months.
The most rigorous medical exam for pilots is the first class exam. The public and flight professionals alike should be heartened to know that all airline pilots need to take this type of medical exam before flying scheduled flights. Pilots who take the first class medical exam must pass the criteria of the second and third class exams without question. As well, a clean EKG ensures the FAA and the airline that pilots do not have heart conditions. The FAA requires that pilots with first class certifications must pass a corresponding medical exam every six months to keep track of health problems.