Information for Diabetic Pilots
Diabetes is an epidemic. At the early stages it is often asymptomatic and
only picked up on a urine or blood test. The urine test on your FAA
physical is checking for kidney problems and for sugar in the urine which
could be a sign of diabetes.
Later stages of diabetes can be devastating. The disease increases your
risk for heart disease and strokes. Diabetes is the number one cause of
blindness, dialysis, neuropathy, and amputations, all of which would end
your flying career.
Fortunately, diabetes usually progresses very slowly and you usually feel
well, often, right up until something bad happens. That is why it is very
important to take the disease seriously and to follow your doctors'
instructions faithfully. The main treatment for diabetes is a low
carbohydrate diet and a regular exercise program. Medications help, but
don't rely on them to control your diabetes, as nothing will work long term
without some hard work and changes on your part.
Fortunately, also, being diagnosed with diabetes doesn't ground you with
the FAA, as long as you are deemed safe to fly. They don't like
medications such as insulin and glucotrol that have the potential to drop
your blood sugar too low, making you confused or pass out. They don't like
complications such as vision problems, neuropathy, significant kidney
problems, or poorly controlled blood sugars, all of which could affect your
ability to safely operate an aircraft.
The FAA is fairly lenient with their other requirements. Your A1c level must
be under a 9.0, which is marginal control at best. Your goal should be to
keep yours under 7.0 or even 6.0. Any other problems can probably be
At your first FAA physical with diabetes, your examiner must collect all the
information and lab work for the FAA and forward them the reports. The
FAA will send you your medical certificate from the central office in
Oklahoma along with instructions for follow up documentation that will be
due annually and/ or at each physical.
The form below can be filled out by your treating doctor in lieu of a letter.