Flying an airplane is an activity of the highest responsibility. Not only does the pilot in command have responsibility for the lives of himself, his passengers and people on the ground, but the Federal Aviation Administration itself has a great responsibility to the American public to ensure that all pilots who take to the skies in this country are able to do so in a safe way.
One of the ways that the FAA ensures the safety of flights within the United States is through restricting those pilots who have medical conditions that may imperil the safety of a flight from receiving a license. As you might expect, airline transport pilots, those holding the highest-level license that the FAA endorses, have the most stringent health requirements. But there are conditions that can disqualify even a private pilot from licensure.
Most serious health conditions preclude someone from flying
Unfortunately, not everyone has the right qualifications. And although it may be personally frustrating for those who become medically unfit to fly, the FAA rules have been carefully devised in order to ensure that both the public and private pilots and their passengers are not put in harm’s way. There is a saying in aviation that the FARs, the laws that govern all flying in the United States, are written in blood. These rules have resulted mostly from piecing together accidents where unlucky air travelers have been killed and then devising ways to prevent similar accidents in the future. They are a necessary part air safety.
The most common disqualifying physical medical conditions are heart related or chronic diseases. Angina pectoris is chest pain caused by ischemia in the heart muscle, and it is a leading cause of pilot disqualification. Vision less than 20/40 can also disqualify a pilot as can severe hearing loss. Unfortunately, any person with coronary heart disease that has been serious enough to require treatment will probably not qualify for any level of licensing. Diabetes that requires hypoglycemic medication or insulin therapy will most likely result in denial of FAA medical certification as well. Epilepsy and other conditions that affect cognition and consciousness will almost certainly disqualify a pilot.
Some mental conditions, like severe personality disorders as well as bipolar disorder can disqualify private pilots. Mental and personality factors, however, are much more likely to affect professional pilots. Part of the pilot training process is weeding out those who may have dangerous or reckless attitudes towards flying and safety in general.