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U.S. to Allow Insulin-Dependent Pilots to Fly Commercial Jets

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will soon sign off on a protocol allowing U.S pilots who are insulin-dependent to fly commercial planes. Pilots will have to apply for a first-class or second-class medical certificate, which is required to fly a commercial flight. 

There will be certain stipulations, such as having their diabetes well under control, having good A1C levels, a review of their medical records, and other factors. 

People with type 1 diabetes, and some with type 2, are dependent on insulin to live. 

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes was historically diagnosed in childhood, but it is now also common to be diagnosed as an adult. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas creates little to no insulin for the body to convert sugar into energy. When this happens, sugar builds up in the bloodstream and can damage blood vessels throughout the body. Keeping blood sugar within a healthy range is crucial for type 1 diabetes, and people with type 1 diabetes will have to take insulin through injections or a pump. 

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U.S. FAA decision

This U.S. decision follows those of Canada and the UK, who already allow type 1 pilots to fly commercial planes. In the U.S., pilots with type 1 have been able to fly private planes since 1996 with a Special Issuance Class 3 Medical Certification. However, the FAA has very detailed regulations in place for exactly when a pilot has to check blood sugar, treat themselves, what kind of candy to use for a low, and more.  

T1D pilots were not allowed to fly before due to the common risks of severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), reduced cognitive function, possible seizure, and loss of consciousness. The decision was made possible chiefly due to advancements in technology that allow people with type 1 to seamlessly manage their diabetes, namely the use of continuous glucose monitors and insulin pumps.

Good news for pilots new and old

This FAA decision is wonderful news for young and aspiring pilots who would have had their dreams crushed of pursuing a career as a pilot. In addition, licensed pilots with type 1 who weren’t able to fly could now be able to relaunch their careers. 

The American Diabetes Association and the Air Line Pilots Association applaud the decision. The American Diabetes Association said, “Blanket bans based on diagnosis alone are never appropriate, even in safety-sensitive positions. Not all persons with diabetes are fit to pilot a commercial aircraft, but certainly some are, and they should be afforded individual assessment of their medical condition and qualifications.”