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I have the diagnosis results for Asperger syndrome (scored 177 out of 76 required to get the diagnosis). Are there any regulations in Europe that can stop me from achieving my life goal: To fly commercial jets?

My autism makes me very strongly interested in aviation, programming and audio design. But aviation is absolutely on top and has been since I was 6. The others have come as I age.


It might be a little off-track: So I'll add this little story just to add some "meat" to the question:

I just recently went on a trip with a few of my co-workers that included a trip on a B737-800. They thought it was special that I filmed the takeoff and landing, took pictures of it at the gate, and viewed out the window the entire two hours trip (my neck still hurts). They also had a funny reaction when I explained why the airflow to the cabin (packs) suddenly went silent as the engines start up. There is nothing more that I enjoy than flying, and I feel like I really belong up there (that poor kid in the seat in-front of me had a very different opinion).

I really wanted to see the cockpit during these flights. But asking is hard for me with Asperger. It kind of makes me feel like a 4-year-old.

It might not count for much in the real world, but I have logged over 16,000 landings on my little home-simulator. Three of them are intended crashes just to test the simulation.

All I ever wanted since I was a kid was flying commercial jets.

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    $\begingroup$ Related $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Nov 12 '15 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ "I think first you should figure out whether you like flying airplanes or not as a love of aviation and airplanes does not automatically mean you will love being at the controls." -- Best advise. I wanted to be a pilot really badly, so my Grandfather took me to the airport and a friend showed me what it was like. I gave up on that goal right then an there. It was not what I imagined. $\endgroup$ – coteyr Nov 12 '15 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ There's a big difference between flying privately and commercially as well. With private flying you go where you want and when, commercially it's a job and you have all the paperwork and politics to go with it. A captain of an airliner's not just a pilot, he's a manager of the crew and passengers on it. It's not always fun. $\endgroup$ – GdD Nov 12 '15 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ It sounds like you have a technical interest in aviation as well. You should investigate the maintenance positions in avionics or the mechanical side. Many pilots with low hours switch to that side as the pay is usually better in the early days. Plus the medical requirements are a lot less. Your maintenance licence will allow for ground run ups and test runs down the runway. Hope that helps. $\endgroup$ – Mark Nov 12 '15 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ Aspergers is a fairly recent category. Given the technical nature of flying -- aerodynamics, systems, regs, weather, etc -- I'm betting thousands of pilots with undiagnosed aspergers have been certified. I know many. $\endgroup$ – rbp Nov 16 '15 at 13:06
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In order to fly commercial you will need a first class medical certificate, and getting that with aspergers is going to be tough. The first consideration is the safety or people in the air and on the ground, so the criteria is conservative. Getting a first class medical would mean lots of extra hoops, even if it is possible. If you did get a medical you would then be competing against candidates who are neuro-typical, and would have to convince the airlines that you would be able to perform your job as well as non-aspergers candidates. That's not to say it's impossible, you would want to talk to a few aviation medical examiners about it to see what they say. If you can get a medical then you've got a chance, and if you are motivated enough and willing to work for it then I believe where there's a will there's a way.

You need to consider your own temperament when going for a pilots license of any kind, whether aspergers or neuro-typical. Flying is not just about the technical details, you need to be able to work with people, first of all your instructor! In commercial flying you also need to cooperate with other pilots and work with passengers, ground crew, and cabin staff. The extreme focus on detail and depth of knowledge on aviation you might develop with aspergers can be a huge asset in some ways, however aspergers could make it very challenging to work cooperatively in the cockpit, deal with troublesome passengers, and make quick and effective decisions. Think about some scenarios:

  • You are FO on a flight, the captain makes a decision you do not agree with
  • A passenger is angry after the flight was delayed and is shouting abuse at you
  • You are the captain of a flight that is low on fuel and had developed an emergency. You need to very quickly opt for continuing to the destination airport or diverting, and there are problems with either choice

Do you think you would be able to successfully deal with these types of situations in the time frame you would have to work with? Not everyone is cut out for that sort of thing, whether aspergers or neuro-typical, these are scenarios all potential commercial pilots would need to be able to deal with.

I think first you should figure out whether you like flying airplanes or not as a love of aviation and airplanes does not automatically mean you will love being at the controls. Why not go for your private license and find out? It's the first step in getting an ATPL anyway, and you could probably get a third class medical. You can then build on that if you want a career in aviation, or keep flying privately if you don't.

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    $\begingroup$ Very good, very complete answer. See if you can get a hold of an examiner to get his opinion before you start any major educations in that filed but don't let that hinder you to get your private license. $\endgroup$ – Mast Nov 12 '15 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ This is obviously a bit overdue but I strongly disagree with your answer if it's supposed to address OP's concerns about whether his Asperger syndrome would prevent him from landing a flying job with an airline. An ATPL, experience and a medical class 1 certificate are the only requirements to apply. Whether he gets a class 1 is a matter for his DME/DAME alone. The concerns that you mentions are broad-brush generalities that apply to anyone in that field. The only part for which I give you credit is that the journey from ab-initio to ATPL is a long one that begins with the first flying lesson. $\endgroup$ – VH-NZZ Aug 9 at 1:19
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It's going to depend on the specifics and severity of your condition. You can't generalize autism spectrum disorders. But Aspergers should not exclude you from flying. Flying commercial is another story. There's only one way to find out, so if you are really serious, you should contact the certification board and find out what the challenges are going to be.

What could be more problematic is if you also have sensory integration or sensory processing issues, which often accompany an autism diagnosis. As an example, I have a son with Aspergers who also has sensory integration issues. He has a very high threshold for pain, and there is almost nothing you can do that will make him dizzy. Those are attributes that could really be useful for a test pilot or acrobatic flyer. But he is also sensitive to loud noise, which is probably not a good attribute to have in aviation.

It will probably never be proven, but there are people who believe that Neil Armstrong had Aspergers, and he was a fine pilot, as we all know. Having read plenty about Armstrong in books by Chuck Yeager and other, and from my own personal experience with Aspergers, I tend to agree.

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    $\begingroup$ Note though, that Neil Armstrong was not an airline pilot. He was a navy pilot and a test pilot. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Nov 13 '15 at 7:05
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    $\begingroup$ ... and he started his flying career at a time where there was no check for asperger. $\endgroup$ – user23573 Nov 13 '15 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ ...nor was he officially diagnosed with Asperger's or Autism $\endgroup$ – Micheal Johnson Nov 13 '15 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ ...and his ability to concentrate in an emergency and maintain engineering knowledge (Gemini 8, the final descent of the Eagle) is more appropriate for a test pilot than an airline pilot, who has to deal with a broader range of less intense situations. $\endgroup$ – tj1000 Jun 13 '17 at 23:29
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Since that other answers are perhaps not overwhelmingly optimistic, I thought I'd suggest another solution that might work out.

Seeing as to that you are also interested in programming, I would look into another aviation area: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, i.e. Drones.

  • No human passengers, so considerably fewer liability concerns. Proper ones are normally designed to be safe by design, i.e. terrain avoidance and flight envelope protection.
  • Intensive and exciting development work being done. Can generally not be said about piloting.
  • You can buy or build one yourself and then engineer and fly it. It's considerably more accessible.
  • It is a considerably less regulated industry.
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One thing you should talk to your AME about is the potential for co-morbid conditions to affect your medical certification -- I have a similar diagnosis, but with co-morbid ADHD as well, and this means that best I can tell, I am ineligible for even a third class medical due to the ADHD.

So, definitely speak with an AME early on!

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  • $\begingroup$ ADHD prevents you from getting a 3rd class? That seems surprising judging from some of the people I've heard on the radio. - haha $\endgroup$ – reirab Nov 13 '15 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ @reirab -- AIUI, all ADHD medications are on the "Do Not Issue - Do Not Fly" list -- and in order to function safely at well, just about anything, the medication is needed. You might be able to get a SI medical, as per this link but part of it is a urine test.... $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Nov 13 '15 at 23:21
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, right. I forgot about the medications. $\endgroup$ – reirab Nov 14 '15 at 1:42
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Unlike organic illnesses like diabetes or hypertension, that condition is a light form of autism that can't be diagnosed objectively, and depends only upon the opinion of the examining doctor and on the information given by the person being examined. The same is true of 'heavier' mental conditions such as schizophrenia. Of course a person 'diagnosed' with 'Asperger's disease' can easily pass a first-class medical in Europe, specially if he doesn't mention that to the doctor...

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I have Asperger's and ADHD but I am on medication. When I am not on medication, I am perfectly fine (just eat more then an average person). I've always wanted to fly a plane and be a pilot since I was 3 years old. I am 15 and still dreaming!.

I've been to Blackbushe airport to fly a Cessna 152 and passed. As long as you have medication, a medical certificate and can control it, I say you will be able to fly a commercial plane.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi Josh. Thanks for contributing, but we are looking for complete authoritative answers rather than individual anecdotes. Please do make more contributions. $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Jun 13 '17 at 3:06
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I believe it is very unfortunate that Asperger syndrome has been included on the autism spectrum even if labeled "High Functioning…. " I have personally worked with numerous Aspergers clients. They are capable of doing anything anyone else can do. Their weakness in understanding nuanced speech patterns, and weakness in understanding people's true intent, Etc can easily be overcome by spending time with a professional in a certain area who can teach them the typical words and phrases that are used in that field and what they really mean.

When people with Asperger syndrome do inappropriate things or say inappropriate things, they are not trying to be inappropriate. They will listen with very wide open ears to people who will actually teach them what the appropriate expectations are in different situations. I also happen to be a pilot, and my son is an airline captain. I have no doubt in my mind. A person with Asperger syndrome can become an excellent pilot. Before you go for your FAA physical, sit down with someone who can help you practice for the physical. Practicing means hearing the doctor's questions, following through with the tasks he requests, and not saying inappropriate things. There is absolutely no reason to tell the FAA doctor anything about your Asperger diagnosis. Just like if you have a problem, where you got only A's in Calculus, but have a mental block against differential equations. You may think that that is a math disability, but it is irrelevant for most jobs. Therefore it would be foolish to write on your resume, or tell an interviewer anything about your math disability, especially when the job does not require differential equations. "Disclosing" your "math disability" will make the interviewer think you can't do basic math. He will not understand that you completed at least 3 semesters of Calculus in university, and only tripped on a higher-level calculus!

The problem with their throwing out Asperger's as a separate diagnosis and putting everyone into the "Autism Spectrum" is that Aspys are not autistic in the sense that most understand the word.

It is a very limited syndrome. Basically Aspys understand perfectly well everything said that is clearly expressed. They only miss situations where they need to "hear" the emphasis the speaker places on a word or phrase to understand the speaker's intent.

That is much less common in flying, since most of our communications are with short words or phrases that you will be clearly taught in flight school.

This is done so the foreign airline pilot whose "American English" is likely not their first language, can understand without confusion.

Sadly, the new inclusion of Aspys onto the Autism Spectrum causes many well-meaning people to assume people with Asperger's have some of the other autism weaknesses. Even many Aspys have read up on "the spectrum" and assume incorrectly that they have some of those characteristics.

So, absolutely first get your Class 3 medical, and get, in this order: Private Pilot Instrument Rating Get some good hours, maybe 200, really master the special language of Aviation, then make up your mind. Yes? Get your CFI maybe, so you can earn some money instructing, while building hours instead of paying for every damn hour Go get your Class 1 medical. Then, GO FOR IT Commercial ATR

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    $\begingroup$ "There is absolutely no reason to tell the FAA doctor anything about your Asperger diagnosis." You are recommending that one should commit a felony crime when you say that. Once one has been diagnosed, failing to disclose that history on the medical form is a criminal act. This answer is dangerously wrong in this regard. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Jul 13 at 20:40

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