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 worked through.

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.