A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

November 2010             

Must Sell.  Lost Medical.

A perfectly restored 1946 Piper Cub was listed for sale one day on an internet site.  It was on floats, and was pictured sitting tied to a wharf on a little lake.  The photo was taken on a beautifully clear day with not a ripple showing on the water.  Most pilots would sit there gazing at their computer screens, wishing for the return to the days when they were flying airplanes like that.  Those that never had the opportunity to own or fly one, may wish they had. 

The J-3 is the plane I flew to earn a float rating in 1998.  It didn’t matter to me that it had only 65 horsepower and required a long, long run down the lake to get airborne.  That little machine flew so well, it was easy to control and was tremendous fun.

The end of the ad stated that the owner needed to sell because he’d lost his medical. 

I called to speak with the unfortunate fellow, his name is Earl.  He is a truly nice retired man who had owned the Cub for almost 20 years.  He spoke of it using the term “she”, like it was as close to him as his wife or perhaps a daughter.  More like a good friend, I thought.  Sensing the sadness in his voice, I encouraged him with suggestions as to how he could keep flying.  Offering to take other pilots on board wouldn’t work for him.  His days with “her” were mostly flying solo, checking in on the close-by lakes so familiar after their many years together.  He never went far from his property or from his lake.  I wondered if selling a share to a partner would be an option.  He said he’d given that some thought, but concluded that he wanted her all to himself, or not at all.  Like most men would like their wives!  Earl was in love with the Cub.  I felt bad for him.

For some pilots, losing the medical is very traumatic.  Some lose their livelihood, which is probably the most serious consequence of all.  Professional pilots generally take care of themselves.  They must commit to maintaining their health as long as possible.  Transport Canada has between 50,000 and 60,000 medicals submitted for approval annually by over 950 Civil Aviation Medical Examiners.   It surprised me to learn that around 98% of those are assessed as fit, or fit with restrictions.  That is not a misprint.  Ninety eight percent!  

Some other facts about the medical process many pilots don’t realize are all available on the TC websites.   For instance, there’s a little item that states it is possible to legally fly after the expiration date on your medical certificate.  If you apply to Transport while it is still valid, and if there’s been no reasonable opportunity to undergo an exam within 90 days prior to it’s expiring, you may be granted the extension.  That could be important to a commercial pilot working in the far north.

If you’re a female pilot, you may have wondered about flying while you’re pregnant.  The rule is, once you enter the 13th week of pregnancy, you’re grounded until six weeks after the baby comes along.  And then you’ll require another exam by your C.A.M.E.

In general, to be fit to fly, there are restrictions you face in terms of your physical, mental and emotional health.  Some of these you have direct control over, mainly some of the physical elements.  You can be denied for reasons relating to heart and lung problems, many of which can be avoided by taking responsibility for your lifestyle habits. 

Some diabetics are classed as unfit.  If you’re in that category, ask yourself if you followed your doctors orders in the past regarding exercise and weight-loss, just a couple of factors which can minimize and delay the onset of the disease (in some instances). 

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) often manifests in the older population, including many pilots.  You can be refused on your next medical if bronchitis, asthma or emphysema causes symptoms on moderate exercise that lead to impairment.  Most COPD sufferers have a history of smoking.  Perhaps you’ve been one of those, and even if you quit many years ago, the damage has been done.

For consideration in obtaining or renewing your medical, you cannot have an established history of psychosis, alcohol or chemical dependence or abuse, or behavioral disorders that have resulted in an overt (criminal) act.  You cannot suffer from a disease of the nervous system which results in seizures.  Active TB sufferers are rare, but will not be approved.  If you have a history of Syphilis and are applying for your initial medical, you must present evidence of treatment and be free from communicable diseases.  HIV applicants are deemed unfit unless certain criteria can be met. 

The usual and expected requirements around your eyesight and hearing are all pretty straight forward.  But did you know that stuttering will deem you unfit for a commercial license, IF it causes communication problems?  I didn’t think I’d see that in this politically correct world we live in.  But it’s perfectly reasonable.  In fact to obtain your pilot’s license now, you are required to demonstrate proficiency in English.    

In past articles, I’ve discussed possibilities that exist after a flying career ends.  It seems to me, we should all have a back-up plan, something else to get excited about and to keep from going into a sedentary existence.  If we look around, there will be something out there that’s available once we have the time to explore.  Flying, and all that goes with it, consumes our time.  Although there are many restrictions to obtaining a medical certificate, most of them won’t stop us from enjoying what we’ve been missing for many years.  If Earl has sold the Cub, here’s hoping he’s moved on to fill his days with an exciting new venture.

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