Flying with Disability: Pilots with Disabilities

Author: Disabled World - Contact Details
Published: 2009/04/10 - Updated: 2023/09/28
Peer-Reviewed: N/A - Publication Type: Informative
On This Page: Summary - Main Article - About/Author

Synopsis: There are a number of people who are under the impression that only non-disabled persons can fly aircraft, but nothing is further from the truth. The Skyarrow is often used for both light-sport and private pilot certification - and it is designed by a person who is disabled Aerobility (UK) - A registered charity using the challenges of flight and exposure to aviation as a tool for improving the lives of those with a disability.


Main Digest

Pilots with Disabilities

Several years ago, a convention was signed in Chicago between most countries that allows pilots who pass standard fitness and medical criteria to obtain a pilot medical certificate. Disability is often perceived by non-disabled persons as people who use wheelchairs, but in actuality, disability can take many forms from hearing and vision disabilities to diabetes, amputations, and other forms of disability.

Pilots with disabilities are able to fly within the boundaries of many Western nations, although some nations are more reasonable than others.

The United Kingdom, France, Canada, America, and the Antipodes are the best, while nations such as Portugal, Spain, and Belguim are making things as difficult as possible. A pilot with disabilities, prior to flying to another nation, needs to apply for permission. They are required to send a copy of their medical certificate and license to fly, along with a cover letter, to the nation's aviation authority. Once permission is received to fly in a nation, the pilot with a disability has to carry a letter of permission with them while they are visiting that nation.

Many times, pilots with disabilities train alongside non-disabled pilots at local flying clubs.

Sometimes, specially-adapted aircraft are required, meaning that a pilot with disabilities may have to travel further, or find a club that offers an adaptive aircraft. For people who experience difficulty with leg movement, there are aircraft such as some Pipers which are easier to convert. There are other kinds of aircraft that can be converted, and there are experts who are able to advise pilots appropriately.

There is a point during every pilot with a disability's training that they have to get past - a medical flight test.

An examiner determines if the pilot is able to control their aircraft equally as well as any other pilot who is at the same level of training. The test is flexible, and is not difficult to pass. Pilots with disabilities go on to pass this test and participate in everything from air racing to aerobatics.

There are some persons with disabilities, people with diabetes or heart issues for example, who may be required to fly with a, 'safety pilot.'

While this may sound like something negative, the person can actually be someone the person knows who is a pilot. A safety pilot is simply there in case the pilot with a disability becomes incapacitated, and can be a volunteer as well. Flying with a friend can be more fun. Aviation is a sport where many persons with disabilities can fly with the best.

Airfields themselves are another story; most notably Bergerac airport in France apparently.

There are some airfields who; despite legislation that has been put in place by most Western nations, will not allow pilots with disabilities to park within reach of facilities, or provide transportation from their aircraft. Usually, if you radio ahead to the tower that you experience difficulty with walking, for example, assistance is forthcoming. An even better option is to call in advance, describing your particular needs.

But What About a Plane?

Well first of all...were you aware that all a Sports Pilot needs is a valid driver's license in order to fly? There is no other medical necessary. If you are in a position where you are able to consider purchasing a plane for yourself, there is one called the, 'Skyarrow,' that is used for both light-sport and private pilot certification - and it is designed by a person who is disabled. It is the only airplane in the world that is manufactured with hand-controls integrated into the flight control system. Not to be unfair to non-disabled persons who may wish to fly the Skyarrow, the hand controls can be removed in seconds, allowing them to fly the plane as well. The plane is easily accessible to persons with mobility issues because of its tandem high-wing design.

The International Wheelchair Aviators (IWA) began in 1972 as a monthly, 'Fly to Lunch,' group of four Aviators with paraplegia from the Southern California area. The IWA has become a worldwide organization of persons with disabilities as well as non-disabled pilots who are interested in flying and aviation. The IWA's mission is to assist pilots with disabilities in the desire to fly through providing information concerning the Federal Aviation Association's (FAA's) medical requirements, flight schools, and hand controls.

Members of the IWA have a number of different disabilities that include quadriplegia, paraplegia, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, polio, and additional disabilities. Their hard work and persistence, along with the assistance of the FAA medical system and hundreds of pilots, have provided the opportunity to fly to many people with disabilities, and have helped others to return to their careers. For the past twenty-five years, several hundred pilots with disabilities have flown thousands of hours all over the world, in many kinds of aircraft, using hand controls and additional adaptations in order to operate aircraft as pilots.

Most of the IWA's members pilot aircraft for sheer enjoyment, although some of them use their planes for transportation in order to get past the confinement of regularly scheduled airlines. A number of the members are professional air show performers. The IWA also provides a list of pilots with disabilities, they kinds of planes they fly, and the hand controls they use.


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Cite This Page (APA): Disabled World. (2009, April 10). Flying with Disability: Pilots with Disabilities. Disabled World. Retrieved November 30, 2023 from

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