Which Type of Aviation Medical Certificate Should You Get?

Aviation Medical Doctor
Image: Getty/Joe Raedle

There are three different types of aviation medical certificates a pilot can obtain: a first class, second class and a third class certificate. The type of flying a pilot does, or intends to do, will determine the category of aviation medical exam he or she will need. It's important to make sure the correct medical certificate is obtained for the type of flying to be done.

Anyone can apply for any of the three medical certificate types.

For example, a first class medical certificate is necessary only for airline pilots and some other commercial pilots; however a student pilot who desires to enter a career in aviation might want to obtain a first class medical certificate to ensure that he or she meets the required standards before investing time and money into flight training.

The type of medical certificate is based on the type of airmen privileges a pilot wants to use. For example, a private pilot with a first class medical certificate will be able to utilize the privleges of a first-class medical certificate until it expires, at which point he can utilized the same medical, but is downgraded to second or third class medical privileges. Confused? Keep reading.

First Class Medical Certificate

Who needs one?

  • First class medical certificates are a requirement for airline transport pilots. Any pilot that exercises the privileges of an airline transport pilot must pass and maintain a first class aviation medical certificate.

    What is the duration period?

    • For airline pilots, or those that are otherwise required to maintain a first class medical, the valid period for the medical certificate is six months for those who are age 40 or older, or 12 months for pilots under 40.
    • A pilot with a first class medical can utilize second class medical privileges (commercial pilots) for 12 months, no matter their age.
    • A pilot with a first class medical can utilize third class medical privileges for 24 months if age 40 or older, or 60 months if under 40.

     

    Second Class Medical Certificate

    Who needs one?

    • Pilots exercising commercial pilot privileges need at least a second class aviation medical certificate. In addition, flight engineers, navigators and air traffic controllers are required to maintain second class medical certificates.

    What is the duration period?

    • Second class medical certificates are valid for 12 months.
    • A pilot with a second class medical certificate can exercise third class medical privileges for 24 months if age 40 or older, or 60 months if under age 40.

    Third Class Medical Certificate

    Who needs one?

    • Student pilots, recreational pilots, private pilots and flight instructors who act as pilot in command or serve as a required crew member need at least a third class medical certificate.

    What is the duration period?

    • A third class medical certificate is valid for 24 months if you're age 40 or older or for 60 months if you're under 40 years old.

    Medical Certificates Not Required

    Aviation medical certificates are not required for the following people and operations:

    • Balloon or glider pilots
    • Sport pilots (in most cases)
    • Student pilots applying for a glider or balloon rating
    • Student pilots applying for a sport pilot certificate, in many cases
    • Flight instructors with a sport pilot in a glider or balloon, or a flight instructor with a glider rating
    • Ground instructors
    • Flight instructors not acting as pilot in command or as a required crew member
    • Check ride examiners when conducting check rides in a balloon, glider, flight training device or simulator
    • Military pilots who can show proof of a military medical exam (in some cases)

     

    Sources:

    FAA Aviation Medical Examiners Guide

    FAR Part 61.23