American pilots who use
insulin to treat their diabetes will soon be able to apply to fly commercial airliners.
They are set to follow their British counterparts who were given the green light by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority in 2012.
In the US, the Department of Transportation revealed plans to follow suit to CNN, with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expected to make an announcement as soon as next week.
Authorities have imposed the restrictions over fears of hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels), but advances in technology, including continuous glucose monitoring, have mitigated the risk of a hypo.
The FAA will allow pilots with insulin-treated diabetes to apply for a first or second-class medical certificate which is required to fly a commercial flight.
Those US pilots who need insulin as part of their diabetes care have been able to fly as a pilot-in-command since 1996 but only on private flights, not on commercial flights.
The move to change the rules comes following a legal bid by a pilot asking for leniency regarding medical certification. The FAA noted safety concerns in a court filing last month, citing the risks related to hypos including reduced cognitive function, unconsciousness and, in very rare cases, death. However, technology has reduced the risk of hypos and the FFA also recognised this in the court filing.
The FFA’s Michael Berry, a Federal Air Surgeon, stated: “Recent advances in technology and diabetes medical science have allowed the FAA to develop an evidence-based protocol that can both identify a subset of low-risk applicants whose glycemic stability is sufficiently controlled and also ensure these pilots can safely maintain diabetic control for the duration of a commercial flight.”
Pilots on insulin will need to provide their medical details and prove a history of successful self-management of their condition to get the licence needed to fly commercially. A special medical certificate will be issued for applications given approval.
Commenting on the US decision, Jim Coon, from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, told CNN: “Many private pilots who are insulin dependent have been flying safely since 1996. With medical advancements, such as continuous glucose monitoring along with proper protocols, the FAA’s impending proposal should help many highly qualified pilots fly commercially.”
Canada became the first country to allow people using insulin to treat their diabetes to fly commercial jets and the UK became the second country to follow.
The American Diabetes Association said: “Blanket bans based on diagnosis alone are never appropriate, even in safety sensitive positions. Not all persons with diabetes are fit to pilot a commercial aircraft, but certainly some are, and they should be afforded individual assessment of their medical condition and qualifications.”
Union Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) added: “ALPA has been advocating for years for the FAA to join the global community in revising their career ending position that pilots who are diagnosed with [insulin-treated] diabetes cannot continue to hold their first-class medical certificate.”