Can I Learn to Fly After Heart Surgery and Diabetes?

With careful steps—and consultation with an aviation medical examiner—a pilot can pursue flight training under special conditions such as BasicMed or sport pilot rules after open-heart surgery and with well-managed diabetes. [File Photo: Adobe Stock]

Q: I started flight lessons and put in several hours years ago. I would like to complete my certificate and buy an airplane. Three and 1/2 years ago, I had open-heart surgery, and I'm on medication for diabetes (I should be going off this medication soon). I radically changed my diet, and I am in the best shape I have been in many years. I'm 61 and have wanted to do this since I was much younger. What do you think?

A: First, congratulations on turning your health around—that is an accomplishment that will pay off in many ways, and hopefully allow you to get back into the air. In order to do that, you’ll need to determine what your best option is as far as the medical certificate you’ll need to fly solo and obtain a private pilot certificate—assuming that’s your goal.

If you have held a medical certificate since July 14, 2006, and you’ve never been denied a medical certificate before, you may be able to apply for BasicMed, generally, as long as you can hold a driver’s license in your state, and you don’t have any conditions that are disqualifying. You can find out more on the FAA’s BasicMed page. You may also find these FAQs helpful.

The advisory circular issued for BasicMed also includes the physician’s form. If your diabetes is managed in such a way that your driver’s license is unrestricted, it may not be a limiting factor for you—but consult your physician for further guidance.

At the very least, though, with your cardiac history, you will need a special issuance, regardless of if you pursue a regular medical certificate or BasicMed. For this, you will need to work with your physician and an aviation medical examiner, depending on which route you take.

With BasicMed, you are somewhat limited in the aircraft you can operate as pilot in command—it must weigh 6,000 pounds or less, and carry no more than 6 occupants.

If you wish to fly a light sport aircraft (LSA), you can bypass all of these steps—as long as you have a valid driver’s license. Any restrictions you have on that license would also apply to exercising either BasicMed or sport pilot privileges.

Best of luck on your new pursuit of flying!

Based in Maryland, Julie is an editor, aviation educator, and author. She holds an airline transport pilot certificate with Douglas DC-3 and CE510 (Citation Mustang) type ratings. She's a CFI/CFII since 1993, specializing in advanced aircraft and flight instructor development. Follow Julie on Twitter @julieinthesky.

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