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So far, all pilots, other than those operating a glider or balloon or flying under light sport pilot rules, must possess a medical certificate in order to fly legally.

Sport pilots have a choice of whether to fly holding an FAA medical certificate or use your current and valid driver’s license. Please see the information below for more details on the option you can choose:

FAA medical and the student pilot certificate:

Medical certificates, or “medicals” for short, are required for anyone other than a sport pilot who is acting as pilot in command. There are three kinds of medicals: first, second, and third class, each with its own requirements, duration, and privileges.

Typically the medical certificate and student pilot certificate are combined on one form, FAA Form 8420-2, and are issued by a doctor, called an aviation medical examiner (AME), who has been approved by the FAA to administer the medical exam.

The combination medical/student pilot certificate is easy to carry in your logbook, wallet, or purse and required to be in your possession when you fly solo. The difference between the regular medical certificate and the combination medical and student pilot certificate is that, on the back of the medical/student pilot certificate, there is space for the flight instructor’s endorsements that are required for your solo flights.

Driver’s license and the student pilot certificate:

The sport pilot rule allows a pilot to fly light-sport aircraft (LSA) without the need for an FAA medical certificate. However, a sport pilot must hold at least a current and valid U.S. driver’s license in order to exercise this privilege. As stated earlier, the only exceptions are for operations in a glider or balloon, which does not require a driver’s license.

A person using a current and valid U.S. driver’s license must comply with each restriction and limitation imposed by that person’s U.S. driver’s license and any judicial or administrative order applying to the operation of a motor vehicle. That person must also meet the requirements of 14 CFR 61.23(c)(2), which states the following:

  • Have been found eligible for the issuance of at least a third-class airman medical certificate at the time of his or her most recent application (if the person has applied for a medical certificate);
  • Not have had his or her most recently issued medical certificate (if the person has held a medical certificate) suspended or revoked or most recent Authorization for a Special Issuance of a Medical Certificate withdrawn; and
  • Not know or have reason to know of any medical condition that would make that person unable to operate a light-sport aircraft in a safe manner.

Exceptions to the Driver’s License Medical
There are some people who are not allowed to use a driver’s license to satisfy the medical requirement.

Specifically, individuals who previously held an Airman Medical Certificate or an Authorization for Special Issuance that has been denied, suspended, withdrawn, or revoked; or whose most recent application for an Airman Medical Certificate did not result in their being found qualified for at least a third-class Airman Medical Certificate, cannot use a driver’s license to exercise Sport Pilot privileges.

Pilots who previously held medical certificates that merely expired are allowed to use their driver’s licenses to meet the medical requirements for sport pilot privileges. This is subject to the self-certification requirements that apply to all pilots and consulting with their personal physicians regarding any known medical conditions.

Special Issuance Medical Certificates
Pilots who once held medical certificates which were denied, suspended, withdrawn, or revoked should apply for an Authorization for Special Issuance in accordance with FAR 67.401. A Special Issuance is an Airman Medical Certificate issued to someone who ordinarily would not qualify for one. The process of obtaining a Special Issuance medical certificate is long, complex, and often expensive.

If you’re currently a sport pilot using your driver’s license as a medical, and you apply for a Special Issuance medical certificate and are denied, you’ll no longer be able to use your driver’s license as a medical. So it’s extremely important that you where you are health-wise before you apply. If your application for a Special Issuance is denied, you’ll lose even the flying privileges that you already have.

Words of wisdom: It’s best to let your medical expire and fly as a sport pilot in LSA rather than have it denied, revoked, withdrawn, or suspended and have to clear the medical or not fly at all.

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