Which Type of Aviation Medical Certificate Should You Get?

Aviation Medical Doctor
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Getty/Joe Raedle

Private pilots can obtain three tiers of aviation medical certificates: first class, second class, and third class; each corresponding with a specific type of flying. The variety of flight that a pilot intends to engage in will determine the category of aviation medical exam he or she will need before taking off.

Each of the three medical certificate types are available to all. 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.

When the privileges of a first-class medical certificate expire, the pilot can continue to use the certificate, but it is downgraded to second class (and then third class) in terms of the privileges it endows to an individual.

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 receive and maintain a first-class medical certificate in order to command┬áscheduled air carriers' aircraft under CFR 14 Part 121.

What is the duration period?

  • For airline pilots or those that are otherwise required to maintain a first-class medical certification, 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 certificate can utilize second-class medical privileges (commercial pilots) for 12 months, no matter their age.
  • A pilot with a first-class medical certificate 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 medical certificate. In addition, flight engineers, navigators, and air traffic controllers are required to maintain z second-class medical certificate.

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.
  • Sports pilots, in most cases.
  • Student pilots applying for a glider or balloon rating.
  • Student pilots applying for a sports pilot certificate, in many cases.
  • Flight instructors with a sports 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.