As an amateur pilot I'm aware that I can lose my medical at some point and have to give up flying. For a professional, losing a medical can end their career. I know several people who wouldn't even get a PPL with their medical history. Are their any figures on the number of CPLs/ATPLs that lose their livelihood for this reason?

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    $\begingroup$ Don't know the number but I do know that the fallout rate is much lower than it once was. You can hold a Cat 3 and even Cat 1 with all sorts of medical conditions, like controlled hypertension, some kinds of arrhythmias, that once grounded people, if you meet certain conditions and once you jump through a bunch of hoops. Canada has even issued a Cat 1 to an airline pilot with Type 1 insulin dependent diabetes (with extremely strict monitoring requirements). I knew a guy with a Cat 1 with mild Parkinsons. He had to quit when the shaking got too bad to write. Another with vision in 1 eye $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 5:44
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have a country in mind? $\endgroup$
    – Ben
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 5:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Ben - No country in particular $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 8:51
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    $\begingroup$ @John K - I did read an AAIB report where an airline captain was PF and his prosthetic arm came loose - bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-28778728. In the UK there's Cat 2 for private flyers and Cat 1 for the pros for EASA licences. You can downgrade your licence from EASA to LAPL or NPPL and use a driver's licence level of medical sign-off but it limits the type of aircraft you can fly, which many older PPLs do. I've also known people jump though all the hoops (£££) and still have to stop flying $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 9:10
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    $\begingroup$ In the ultimate fullness of time, ALL pilots lose their certificate due to "death", which is a medical condition. $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 16:19

2 Answers 2


This information doesn't easily exist, I'm sure insurance companies have some figures but they don't seem to be public.

I'm just going to expand on Pondlife's answer with more data. In Australia the regulator CASA publishes all sorts of statistics, including the number of medical certificates issued and refused (page 164).

Australian professional pilots need a Class 1 medical certificate. In the 2017-18 financial year CASA issued 18,155 certificates and only refused 26, or 0.14%. Over the past 5 financial years, 0.22% of applications were refused, and the trend is decreasing.

Some caveats on this data:

  • Not all of this 0.22% were already professional pilots, in fact I would guess that a significant amount were prospective pilots seeing if they would pass before investing so much money in training.
  • These numbers only include those who actually applied for certification. If a pilot suffered a major health diagnosis they probably wouldn't bother to even apply.
  • Class 1 certificates are not just for airline pilots. GA pilots, instructors and so on are also included in this percentage.
  • CASA has a reputation of being a bit more restrictive than the US, but are more allowing on some particular conditions.

So the answer to your question is more than 0, but not enough for a person of ordinary health to be worried about, in my opinion.

  • $\begingroup$ I like numbers. Numbers are good. As you say, not all those refused would be career pilots, and of those refused I'd expect many to regain their Class 1 after treatment (for example; I new an ATPL who spent 12 months recovering from multiple fractures as a result of a car crash) $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 19:55

(US-based answer)

The problem with answering your question is that it isn't all clear what "losing a medical" actually means. If a pilot is denied a medical, the FAA will obviously know and you could probably get that data from them somehow, even if it takes an FOIA request. But what if you just decide not to renew because you know you'd fail? For all the FAA knows, you might have retired, changed career or even died.

If we assume you do mean "denied" then the only specific number I could (quickly) find for denials was from 1978:

The annual denial rate based on airman applicants is 7.9 per 1,000 airmen. By class of certificate applied for, the annual denial rate per 1,000 applicants is 4.5 for the first class, 6.0 for second class, and 10.2 for third class.

You could apply those rates to the number of airmen certified each year to get an estimate of the absolute numbers, but obviously using a 40 year-old report may not be accurate today. And determining how medicals 'map' to pilots may not be easy.

If you want a better answer, you'll have to define exactly what you're asking. To get an accurate number (whatever that means for your purposes) you might have to look for some specialized actuarial or medical research on this.

  • $\begingroup$ What I'm asking, exactly, is how many professional pilots' careers are cut short for medical reasons. I'd like to know how precarious a profession it is. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 9:41

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