Medical Waivers for Pilots

Understanding FAA Terminology and Options

Apr 2014

Abbreviated Briefing:
  • If an Airman does not pass his Aviation Medical Exam , there exists an Appeals Process
  • Successful appeal may lead to a temporary or permanent waiver
  • An Authorization for Special Issuance, is the FAA term for a Temporary Flight Waiver
  • For stable medical defects, Airman may also seek a more permanent waiver called a Statement of Demonstrated Ability (SODA)
  • Either type of waiver may require a special medical check ride called a medical flight test
  • The burden is on the airman to prove s/he is fit to fly and not a threat to public safety
  • Tens of thousands of Airmen have regained flight privileges through this process


Guidance is compiled and interpreted by professional pilots and physicians at from the 2014 AME Guide, FAA and FDA web data ( &, instructions specified in the Aeronautical Information Manual, Federal Air Surgeon Bulletins from 1999-2015, and 14 CFR Part 61 and Part 67 (the FARs).

When an Airman fails a flight physical, s/he may have the option to appeal the unfavorable aviation medical determination. Disqualifying factors are reviewed on a case by case basis, and some applicants are eventually found medically fit to perform aviation duties and are thus granted an "exception" to FAA policy. 

In contrast to the US military phraseology, standard FAA terminology and literature does not use the term waiver very often, and their vocabulary confuses many pilots.  The process is not that difficult once the words are defined, and the FAA has a mature and established waiver process for civilian pilots with minor problems who intend to pursue flight authorization after they have been found to have a disqualifying medical defect.  In fact, over 25,000 US pilots have procured official permission (Authorization) to exercise at least some of their Airman Privileges for a limited period of time +/-  operational limitations.  These Authorizations can sometimes be issued despite what initially appeared to be a disqualifying medical condition. It is best to discuss the probability of success with your AME before embarking on a costly pursuit of a medical waiver.

FAA waivers are simply formal permission slips from the FAA that grant civilian flight privileges to Airman found to have minor medical defects that are technically disqualifying per 14 CFR Part 67.  Pilot and public safety comes first, so airmen requesting reconsideration are usually required to undergo additional testing and prove that their condition is stable over time. The burden is on the airman to prove that their condition is truly compatible with aviation duties.  Only staff at the FAA higher headquarters (Regional Flight Surgeon or higher) can issue these initial waivers, but once issued, existing waivers can often be renewed by a local AME.

Most AMEs think of the "waivers" as two types:

  • Temporary Waivers: for Conditions that Change over Time. An FAA approval like this is properly termed:
    Authorization for Special Issuance.


    • Hyperthyroidism
    • COPD
    • Glaucoma
    • DIabetes
  • Permanent Waivers: For static/stable conditions (ex, amputees, color-blind), the appropriate type of waiver is called:
    Statement of Demonstrated Ability" (SODA). SODA's are generally good for life unless the condition deteriorates.


    • Monocular Vision
    • Loss of Limb
    • Color Blind
    • Bilateral Deafness
  • Whether pursuing a temporary Special Issuance Authorization or a permanent SODA, the Airman who seeks one of these waivers will likely require additional medical documentation and may have to prove his/her practical ability during a medical flight test.


The FAA Waiver process introduces complex semantic concepts. Special Issuance Authorizations are what the FAA issues for progressive conditions likely to deteriorate such as diabetes and heart disease. These temporary waivers require close medical monitoring and these waivers are issued for limited duration.  For more static conditions (such as loss of an eye), the appropriate waiver would be a more permanent Statement of Demonstrated Ability (SODA) type of waiver.

For those considering a career in aviation, it is worthwhile to pursue a higher medical certification class than is legally required during the early application phases.  See how well you do against the published medical standards while learning about flying and the evolving aviation medical system.  After you take a high class flight physical, you will learn how complex aviation health policy interacts with your unique medical circumstances.

Pilots with known or suspected medical defects should be forthright when discussing their future plans and any anticipated medical problems with flight instructors and AMEs. If it appears that you might have some medically disqualifying conditions, then FAA waiver(s) may be needed. The approval process may take several months, and your AME can help you navigate the bureaucracy. Thousands of aspiring pilots have eventually realized how critical it was to understand their personal medical status before making costly career choices or investing in expensive flight training. If in doubt, study the regulations and learn about the FAA's typical aeromedical dispositions and decision considerations. Review the past history of aviators with similar conditions.  Ask your AME or Regional Flight Surgeon for more guidance. These professionals will help guide you through the complex and evolving maze of aviation, medical & regulatory nuance.


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Reminder: use to familiarize yourself with aviation medical regulations and guidelines, but always discuss your specific situation with one or more AMEs before dedicating resources toward expensive clinical workups. Find an AME now