On to College for Aviation: What You'll Need to Get off the Ground


September 1, 2020

Summer's days are passing by and COVID-19 willing, it will be off to college for a number of aspiring pilots. As Minnesotans we are blessed with a couple of first rate aviation programs at Minnesota State and up at the University of North Dakota. Thus, I've been talking with a number of soon to be college students and their parents about preparing to pack off for education in the wild blue. I've been impressed with the intelligence and motivation of so many of these students, two critical elements for success in aviation training.

As far as medical preparedness, I stress to students and parents the importance of getting over to an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) to obtain a First Class Medical Certificate. You don't need a First Class to train or to solo, admittedly. However, before you plop down $100,000+ for a degree in aeronautics you do want to be darn sure you can use it. More than once I've seen kids come in and find that they have a disqualifying condition that would prevent them from holding a First Class Certificate and working for the airlines. Armed with that knowledge they can make the decision to seek another career path or to go for a Special Issuance allowing them to fly with health conditions requiring ongoing monitoring by their doctors and the FAA. Regular readers know that a Special Issuance is a permission from the FAA's medical division for your AME to issue a medical certificate even though you have a serious, disqualifying medical condition. You have to periodically demonstrate that your condition is under good control and is unlikely to cause problems in flight. This usually requires seeing a specialist and getting some tests run for your condition, bringing them for review by the AME and forwarding them to the FAA for further evaluation.

If a condition is a one-time thing, say like kidney stones or a successful cancer surgery, after a few years the SI can be dropped if all is going well. For other chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes usually yearly examinations will be necessary throughout your flying career. I will say though that almost all FAA requirements for follow-up of chronic health conditions are reasonable and no more than you otherwise would do to maintain good control of your health issues.

So what about cost of a fancy First Class? In most shops the difference in expense for a First Second or Third Class Certificate is small unless you need an electrocardiogram (ECG). In our shop the cost without ECG is the same for all three classes of medical certificate. ECG's are required at age 35 for a First Class. So if you're 18 and care-free that's not an issue.

Remember though as you go away to school, we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Continue to practice social distancing (6 feet!). Wear a mask when you are out and about. Practice frequent hand washing. Don't expect a vaccine for COVID-19 until 2021.

You might ask what other advice should be passed on to the would-be college airman? I'd say just about what I'd say to any soon-to-be freshman. Get some regular exercise. Don't burn the midnight candle, letting work pile up. Don't pull an "all-nighter" before a mid-term or final. You'll be better off taking a test well rested and clear headed even if you didn't follow my advice about not letting work pile up. Watch out for those Saturday night bashes. Being a young adult means drinking responsibly, not burning your brain cells.

You are going to be an airline pilot, one of the most demanding and responsible of all professions. Start acting like a pilot!

If you or your student have any further questions or want any further lectures, drop me a line.

Stay safe and enjoy your new adventure!

Fly wisely. See you next month.


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