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Female airline pilots have an area of medical concern that male pilots don't deal with: reproductive issues. If a female airline pilot operating at an air carrier in the United States of America under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were to become pregnant, how would this affect her standing with a first class medical and in general with operations at most airlines?

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    $\begingroup$ In what country? Some countries have laws against discriminating against women because of pregnancy. I suppose this is more airline policy than federal laws. As long as the woman can pass the requirements for a first-class medical then I don't see it having any effect. The only effect is that doctors don't recommend pregnant women fly in the last part of the third trimester, and blood pressure is probably the biggest medical issue. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Mar 10 '16 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer Good call. I narrowed the question down to a discussion of the matter in the USA under the FAA. Do you think it's still too broad? $\endgroup$ – ryan1618 Mar 10 '16 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ @RyanBurnette That narrows it down to one regulatory body, so it should be fine. $\endgroup$ – Jay Carr Aug 18 '16 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ There was an article in the NY about this yesterday: nytimes.com/2016/08/17/business/… $\endgroup$ – Adam Aug 18 '16 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer Many countries that do have such anti-discrimination laws also have exceptions for when safety could be affected. $\endgroup$ – reirab Sep 1 '16 at 18:14
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As long as the pilot is having a first class medical, her pregnancy should have no effect on the operations, at least legally, though the regulations differ from country to country.

(a) Operations that require a medical certificate. Except as provided for in paragraph (b) of this section, no person who holds a medical certificate issued under part 67 of this chapter may act as pilot in command, or in any other capacity as a required pilot flight crewmember, while that person:

(1) Knows or has reason to know of any medical condition that would make the person unable to meet the requirements for the medical certificate necessary for the pilot operation

As long as the pilot feels that she is medically fit and has a valid medical certificate, they can't be legally prevented from flying the aircraft.

  • In case of other regulattions (like EASA), pregnant women are not allowed to pilot after 26 weeks of pregnance. For example, UK Aviation Authority says:

(c) Pregnancy

(1) In the case of pregnancy, if the AeMC or AME considers that the licence holder is fit to exercise her privileges, he/she shall limit the validity period of the medical certificate to the end of the 26th week of gestation. After this point, the certificate shall be suspended. The suspension shall be lifted after full recovery following the end of the pregnancy.

(2) Holders of class 1 medical certificates shall only exercise the privileges of their licences until the 26th week of gestation with an OML.

There are a number of medical issues that the pilot should be aware of while pregnant, so that appropriate measures could be taken, like,

  • Ability to move the controls to their full extent.

  • Ability to wear seat belts.

  • Effect of high altitude operation on the foetus

    among others. The airline policy will vary and they have to consider a number of other conditions- for example, the ability of flight crew to egress during a crash etc.

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    $\begingroup$ I know at least one GA pilot who considered her pregnancy a "medical deficiency" such that she could no longer act as PIC until after she gave birth (she got "big enough" that she couldn't get full up-elevator without the yoke hitting her abdomen) - that's obviously a case-by-case situation though, and depending on the airplane might not be an issue (e.g. an Airbus or a Cirrus with a side-stick) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Mar 10 '16 at 22:31
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Here is a decent article from AOPA on the matter (covers the topic from an FAA/USA standpoint). Looks like legaly they dont have to say anything and they cant legally be pulled

The law is on their side, too. In the early 1990s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that unless a woman voluntarily disclosed her pregnancy to her employer, she couldn't be switched out of her job to one that carries less risk to her fetus. Essentially this means that a woman has the right to decide when to declare she is pregnant to her employer, and to stay in her position even if it may cause harm to the developing fetus.

It also seems like the regulations vary from airline to airline,

Few airlines today ban first trimester flying (from the time of conception through the first 12 weeks of pregnancy). Most, along with the military, permit flying through the second trimester (24 to 28 weeks) during an uncomplicated pregnancy. A few companies have no written policy and handle their pilots' pregnancies and leave issues on a case-by-case basis.

The article goes on to cover most of the topics related to this pretty comprehensively and is worth a read.

Of course there are some general medical concerns that any mother should take into account.

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This is not specific to aviation, and I don't know the rules for countries other than Germany.

I was just starting to argue about radiation doses, but this turns out not to be an issue in most cases:
An average pilot / FA receives a dose of about 2 mSv / year (worker in nuclear power plant: 1mSv/y). An embryo / fetus is not allowed to collect more than 1mSv during the entire pregancy. This would not happen if the much larger mother collects 2mSv in one year, but there are still special precaution requirements. For example, the received dose has to be measured weekly instead of monthly.

But our law gives even more. For example, after the 3rd month, a pregnant woman is not allowed to work on any means of transport, which an aircraft definitely is. And in general, pregnant woman are not allowed to do a job where they have to lift / push / move weights over 5kg permanently or 10kg occasionally.

Due to this laws, pregnant women have to be grounded immediately, no matter what the airline says.

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    $\begingroup$ Since a typical pregnancy is 9 months, during which the last 6 weeks they would definitely not fly, this means at most the pregnant woman would get 1.25mS according to your numbers, so I'm not sure I would consider radiation exposure as a larger factor. I'm not sure about Germany, but I know in the US most women don't get radiation tested weekly during pregnancy... $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Mar 10 '16 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer: No, the dose is indeed not that high I thought it were, but it isn't. But that doesn't change the laws about monitoring. I'd also like to know if flying staff is tested in general in other countries. But as I wrote, it turns out they are not allowed here to push a trolley through the aisle... $\endgroup$ – sweber Mar 10 '16 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ Actually the 1mSv for the entire pregnancy will gather up quite quickly if you fly long distance. For example flying weekly from Europe to Asia and back will give a pregnant woman about 10 working trips (back and forth, so 20 flights) before the whole 1mSv is full. So if you are able to fly from the time the prengancy has started and fly 3 to 6 trips per month it only gives you 2-3 months to fly. $\endgroup$ – user16473 Aug 18 '16 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Ikosatu: I think, what I wrote was a little misleading. The unborn child should not collect more than 1mSv within the 9 months. Flying staff collects an average of 2mSv, the maximum is typically at about 5mSv per year. This dose is a total body dose, not per kilogram. The simple math is: If a 70kg woman collects 5mSv per year, 3.5kg of her body collect 0.25mSv per year or 0.1875mSv in 9 months. In reality, it's more complex since there are some weights on different tissue types, but the fetus also doesn't weight 3.5kg all the time... $\endgroup$ – sweber Aug 23 '16 at 21:52
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I am a pregnant pilot with an ATPL in Australia where we are allowed to legally fly until the end of our 30th week. I'm currently at my 27th week and definitely still feel fit to fly, I just had my Class 1 medical Renewal and my Doctor said he would be more than happy to sign me off to fly for longer but the CASA regulation is firm. I myself still feel fit to fly and am lucky that I have crew that load bags and do the heavy lifting so to speak.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to aviation.SE and congratulations! Unfortunately yours is a personal anecdote that does not really apply (the question is about FAA regulations, you mention Australia's CASA), while we are looking for factual answers, like extracts and links to relevant regulations. $\endgroup$ – Federico Aug 9 '17 at 8:36

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