Pilot Medical Data: Classes of Certification

Apr 2015

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

An applicant is allowed to apply and hold any class of airman medical certificate as long as the applicant meets the required medical standards for that class of medical certificate.

As a recap, here are the three classes of airman medical certificates, identifying the categories of airmen (i.e., pilot) certificates applicable to each class.

  • First-Class - Airline Transport Pilot

  • Second-Class - Commercial Pilot; Flight Engineer; Flight Navigator; or Air Traffic Control Tower Operator. (Note: This category of air traffic controller does not include FAA employee air traffic control specialists)

  • Third-Class - Private Pilot, Recreational Pilot, or Student Pilot



When you decide to start, we recommend that you aim for the highest, most ambitious future class of medical certificate you could conceivably need to best approximate your chances of success early in your training. If you fail a flight physical, don't give up immediately but do not waste a lot of money on advanced flight training until you have a medical opinion (or second opinion) that reasonably estimates your probabiliy of acquiring an FAA waiver. Many pilots choose to wait until they actually possess either a Special Issuance or SODA from the FAA before allocating any additional time or resources toward flight instruction. Wise student pilots who intend to fly for an airline ask their AME to give them a Class 1 Flight Physical during their first flight physical. Although there are no guarantees their health won't change, the initial results greatly inform future plans.

When starting the application process, you will be completing your Electronic Application through MedXPress. If you are (or might be) an aspiring airline pilot, simply request the highest and strictest class of aviation medical certification, Class 1. This class represents the standards that airline pilots must pass. You indicate the class of flight physical you seek while you are filling out Item #2 (class sought) on the Electronic Form 8500-8. The 8500-8 is an online flight physical application where you make delarations and certify your past medical history.  You must complete this electronic form in advance of your actual AME visit, and it remains in the system for 60 days after which it will be deleted, and you'll have to repeat the process and resubmit the 8500-8.  If you are feeling somewhat less ambitious and consider yourself to be an aspiring commercial pilot, then request a slightly easier Class 2 Exam.  Compared to a default Class 3 exam, an upgraded Class 1 or 2 flight physical may cost a little bit more at the AME office, but knowning whether you are qualified at a certain point in your life is priceless. The actual cost differential between classes of Aviation Medical Exam is usually minimal. Not all AMEs are eligible to do Class 1 exams, and AMEs have different fee structures depending on their location, so check in advance.  Expect to pay approximately $25-100 additional when upgrading to higher classes of flight physical.  Despite the risk of disappointment, accurate early information allows junior pilots to redirect their career paths and save thousands of dollars and years of wasted time.

Some students worry about the duration charts, noticing that higher class certificates seem not to last as long. This will not impact you when following our over-reach strategy because when the higher classes expire they automatically and sequentially revert to lower classes. Consequently, over-reaching certificate holders are not short-changed on the length of validity. This step-wise expiration and reversion to lower class happens automatically without any need to revisit the AME. If it is now a few years after the exam, and you are still just needing Class 3 privileges (student or private pilot), you'll still benefit the same from the full validity period of your prior overly ambitious flight physical. That 6 month First Class physical automatically extends itself and will be good as a Second then Third Class physical for the full 2-5 years depending your age. In summary, there is little downside to over-reaching when seeking a higher class of Airman Medical Certificate. By using this approach early in one's career, aspiring professional pilots can estimate their personal odds of medical qualification and select an effective and realistic career path. 


This page discussed Pilot Medical Data: Classes of Certification

Reminder: use FlightPhysical.com 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