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
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..
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
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
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)