flight training
crew licensing


flying for the disabled
by John de Frayssinet (technical consultant for the British Disabled Flying Association and holder of the outright World Air Speed Record (piston) from Land End to John o'Groats)

Many folks have the impression that only fit 'Hurray Henrys' can pilot aircraft. Actually, nothing is further from the truth. A convention was signed in Chicago years back between most sensible countries that allowed pilots who passed standard fitness and medical criteria to obtain a pilot medical certificate. Those who not comply with these medical criteria are therefore effectively disabled as far as being a pilot is concerned. Disability is often viewed as those who use a wheelchair. Actually, disablement takes many forms, from deafness, eyesight problems, diabetes, to amputations etc. etc..

Most Western countries have made it possible for disabled pilots to fly within their boundaries. Of course, some countries are more reasonable than others. France, the UK, Canada, the Antipodes and the USA are probably the best while Spain, Portugal and Belgium make things as hard as possible. A disabled pilot, before flying to another country, must apply for permission. They have to send a copy of their licence and medical certificate with a covering letter to the country's aviation authority.

The letter of permission must be carried by the disabled pilot when visiting that country.

In most cases, people with disabilities are able to train alongside the able bodied at their local flying club. Difficulties arise when a specially adapted aircraft is needed. Here, you may have to travel further, and find a club who can offer the correct aircraft. This information is made available on a number of websites.

For those who have difficulties with leg movement, some aircraft (Pipers in particular) are easier to covert than others. Other aircraft can be converted specially, although it does take time to obtain the necessary permissions and engineering design. There are plenty of experts who can advise.

At some point during training, a disabled person does have to jump one additional hurdle. This is what is called a medical flight test. Here, the examiner determines that you are able to control the aircraft as well as an able bodied person with that level of training. It is not hard to pass, and is usually quite flexible.

Many disabled people go on to fly their own adapted aircraft and take part in anything from aerobatics to air racing.

Some disablements (heart problems and diabetes for instance) may mean that at all times, you have to fly with what is called a 'safety pilot'. This is someone qualified to fly that aircraft and who can take over if the disabled person becomes incapacitated. This is not as bad as it sounds, as usually, one can always find a volunteer and it is more fun to fly with a friend.

I can honestly say that aviation is one sport where many disabled persons can fly on equal terms with the able bodied.

The picture at many airfields is not so good however despite legislation that has been put into place by most Western countries. For those with mobility difficulties, some airfields still will not allow you to park in reach of facilities and will not provide transportation from your aircraft. Bergerac airport, France, is one of the worst offenders here. For the most part though, if you radio to the tower that you have walking difficulties, help will be forthcoming. Far better is to telephone in advance with your special needs.

Here are some of the specialist websites.

http://www.bdfa.net/by far the best site
http://www.bhpa.co.uk/Flyability-web-site/Training-pilots.htm (for microlights)
(about Visionair hand controls)