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I am a student pilot with, and I have had carpal tunnel for years now. It has progressed to a point where my left hand is frequently weak and/or achy. I do have use of the hand, and it is quite uncomfortable in the landing flare since I have to control the yoke left-handed when flying in the left seat to leave my right hand free for the lighter-duty tasks of operating the throttle and other equipment.

I am very close to my check-ride and I am scheduled to have surgery on my left hand next month. I don't want to suspend my training and get rusty. Also, after the surgery, I suspect that my left hand may not be 100% for some time, and I don't want to miss out on these great flying months.

I have seen articles about pilots with disabilities far greater than a case of carpal tunnel, so I'm wondering if there is a way I can avoid putting my training on hold.

Is it permissible to fly from the right seat so that my weak hand only needs to operate the throttle, flaps, etc. while letting my stronger hand handle the yoke?

Is this simply a request to my instructor/examiner or does this trigger an avalanche of FAA medical paperwork to make it legal?

I realize I would have to adjust to a slightly different sight picture in the right seat but I think that is a relatively minor transition in the grand scheme of things.

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    $\begingroup$ Have you seen this question? $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jun 27 '16 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ There is nothing that makes it illegal, however you may not have access to all the required controls (like the mags/master switches) that an examiner would want, or that you would want in an emergency. Flying right seat may take more training than you realize, and it may be better to just wait it out and take a few more "refresher" hours with the instructor when the hand is better. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 27 '16 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ By the way, depending on the aircraft and how you are seated, you may not be able to see some critical flight instruments, like the turn coordinator. Especially for new-ish pilots and practicing stalls, glancing at the turn coordinator can mean the difference between stall training and spin training... $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 27 '16 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ I'd be reluctant to do a checkride with a weak hand. I'd be worried the examiner would send you for a new physical that you won't pass. Then you'd have to go through the special issuance process. They might make an exception for the right seat if you already had a SI but the flight examiner will not be able to say your hand won't effect your ability to fly. Only an AME can do that. If you wait until you are fully healed you could save yourself an awful lot of trouble. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Jun 28 '16 at 1:08
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, and best of luck on your surgery and recovery. I know several people with CTS and it really sucks. One of our mechanics at work is out for a second surgery right now. At one point he could barely hold a wrench but his first surgery improved things greatly $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Jun 28 '16 at 1:12
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Generally speaking if your carpal tunnel syndrome is so bad as to preclude normal operation of an aircraft you probably shouldn't be flying from either seat: If something goes wrong you may well need both hands to operate the aircraft (we do have one-armed, and even no-armed pilots, but they generally have medical exceptions, and possibly additional restrictions).

If you cannot complete your training before your surgery your best bet would probably be to defer your checkride until after the surgery - yes this will probably mean additional training time after your surgery to knock off the rust, but you will likely need this anyway (you're going to get rusty during your recovery whether you're a certificated pilot or a student).
Additionally it's probably a good idea to have a safety pilot with you for your first few flights after recovery to ensure you're physically able to perform all the tasks required to safely fly an airplane, and an instructor accustomed to flying from the right seat makes an excellent safety pilot so you could knock off the rust and do your checkride prep at the same time you're making sure you can safely operate an airplane.


Re: FAA paperwork, I'm not an AME but looking at the FAA's Guide for AMEs carpal tunnel syndrome doesn't appear to be disqualifying unless it presents a "medical deficiency" (broadly "interferes with you operating the flight safely").

When you have your surgery you'll be effectively grounded until you recover adequate normal function in your hand to operate the flight controls without risk to the safety of the flight, and more importantly without risk of doing further damage and hindering your recovery.

Having had surgery is something you'll need to report on your next medical application (Question 18, item x: "Other illness, disability, or surgery "). Speak to your AME for details on what you may need to bring to the exam, if anything: Some may want a note from your treating physician stating you've regained normal grip and sensation, others might be OK just checking out your hand during the exam per 67.313 and saying "Your hand seems fine to me."
If you're enrolled in AOPA's Pilot Protection Services you can contact them for information on what you should have available for the exam.

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  • $\begingroup$ I can see why flying solo or taking a checkride with a weak hand would be a bad idea but is there any reason he should not fly from the right seat with an instructor in the left seat? $\endgroup$ – Peter Green Jan 23 '17 at 21:29

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