Medical Requirements – Airplane Pilot

All pilots, other than those operating a glider or balloon or flying light sport aircraft under the sport pilot rules (FAR 61.303), must possess a FAA  medical certificate in order to fly as PIC (Pilot In Command) legally. PIC includes solo. This is one of the reasons many pilots choose the Light Sport Aircraft flying under the Sport Pilot rules.No FAA medical required. The driver’s license is used as medical eligibility.

There is an exception to this with the new Basic Med rule. If you had a valid FAA medical  certificate since July 15, 2006, you can fly heavier aircraft by passing a medical exam with a state licensed doctor and a quiz. This is covered in BASIC MED at the bottom of this page.

It should be noted that Ultralight Pilots operating a single seat Ultralight under FAR Part 103 do not need a driver’s license, pilots certificate, medical certificate or training (not smart to fly without training it usually ends bad).

Sport pilots have a choice of whether to fly holding an FAA medical certificate or use your current and valid driver’s license as medical eligibility. Most all sport pilots use the driver’s license and avoid the FAA Medical. Please see the information below for more details on the options:

FAA medical and the student pilot certificate:

FAA Medical certificates, or “medicals” for short, are required for anyone other than a sport pilot, besides BASIC MED, 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.

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

Recently, the Student Pilot Certificate and the FAA Medical are separate certificates. Now you must apply for both separately.

  • To apply for a medical certificate, you make an appointment with an aviation medical examiner (AME), go to web site and fill out the form for your AME appointment.
  • To apply for a Student Pilot Certificate, go into and create an account and apply for a student pilot certificate. You will need to then see a flight instructor to OK the form and it will be sent into the FAA for approval.

Both medical certificate and student pilot certificate is easy to carry in your logbook, wallet, or purse and required to be in your possession when you fly solo.

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 as medical eligibility in order to exercise this privilege.

As stated earlier, the only exceptions are for BASIC MED and operations in a glider or balloon, which does not require a driver’s license. In fact, if a FAA medical has been denied, revoked, rejected or suspended, a loophole in the regulations allows private pilots to fly balloons and sailplanes, including motorized gliders which are simply airplanes with longer wings.

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:

  • 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.

To apply for a Student Pilot Certificate, go into and create an account and apply for a student pilot certificate. You will need to then see a flight instructor to OK the form and it will be sent into the FAA for approval.

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. In this case, you cannot use a driver’s license to exercise Sport Pilot privileges. The medical must be cleared with at least a special issuance to fly as PIC.

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.

There are instances where someone had a DUI 10 years ago, or temporarily took pain medication long ago were put into a program for rehabilitation that cost over $10,000 and still denied. WARNING, do not think these simple items are going to be OK with the FAA medical people. 

Final thoughts: Words of wisdom:

  • If you want to fly for fun or become a sport pilot instructor, aviod the FAA medical and its complications.
  • If you currently have a FAA medical, 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.
  • Additionally you can go for BASIC MED as described below.


Basic med allows someone who held a medical certificate since July 15, 2006, to use Basic Med and fly heavier than LSA airplanes with limitations such as no flying over 18,000 feet, airplane must weigh less than 6,000 pounds, see details at 61.113 (i). Per 61.23 (c) (3).

You simply get an exam from a state certified doctor, take a knowledge test and you are good to go. But you must have had an FAA medical since July 15, 2006. If not, you have to get an FAA medical to use BasicMed.

So, if you think you might fail the FAA medical, just fly Light-Sport Aircraft as a sport pilot and do not risk it. You fail a medical and you are done with flying until you clear it.