FLYING PREGNANT- More than one solution for pregnant pilots and their employers
The FAA guide to medical examiners states that performing flight duties is allowed during “normal” pregnancy. Normal is a relative term. Certainly there are unique medical and flight safety risk factors which are present even at conception. Even during the simplest of pregnancies many women experience fatigue and nausea during the first trimester and almost all women experience fatigue and or nausea at some point during pregnancy.
One-third of pregnant women will deliver prior to their due date and 100% will be completely disabled at some point during pregnancy, yet the FAA’s only regulatory guidance is FAR 61.53. When paraphrased FAR 61.53 essentially says pilots must ground themselves if they know or have reason to know of any medical condition that would make them unable to meet the requirements or if they are taking medication or receiving treatment for a medical condition that renders them unable to meet the requirements. There is a wide range of interpretations of FAR 61.53 for pregnant pilots and while some believe these pilots should be grounded in the first trimester, others believe moms-to-be can fly two weeks beyond their due date.
Airline operators have long recognized the potential for negative outcomes in late pregnancy. Those not already on paid leave are usually transitioned to a desk job by the 30th week. While this is a workable solution for most airlines, fractional jet operators and corporate pilots may have fewer options.
Monetary and legal issues often eliminate options for corporate flyers, which are readily available to their airline counterparts.
In some cases pilots continue flying in order to remain on pay status while reducing safety margins for mother, baby and passengers.
Factors which may considerably reduce flight safety and classify a pregnancy as “abnormal” include: A history of multiple pregnancies, previous pre-term deliveries, cervical incompetence, bleeding, increased uterine activity,
reduced oxygen carrying capacity in the blood (anemia), reduced placential respiratory reserve such as intrauterine growth retardation, post maturity, pre-eclampsia, chronic hypertension or placental infarction.
Flight during pregnancy increases the risk for:
Edema (swelling) and blood clot formation due to obstruction of the vena cava from uterine compression and lack of mobility
Reduced timely medical response due to the flight environment
Placental abruption which can be associated with minor abdominal trauma
Additional considerations include:
Morning sickness, motion sickness, cockpit confinement, abdominal crowding related to altitude expansion, control operation, baggage handling, frequent urination, difficulty in equalizing pressure due to tissue hyperplasia
and passengers perception.
No two pilot pregnancies are alike. What is safe for one may be risky for another. Different flight operations require women be informed and aware
of the unique risk factors related not only to their pregnancy but to their specific flight operation. Employers should be as supportive as possible while
advising pilots to consider both personal and flight safety ramifications.
FLYING BY THE NUMBERS
Most Pre-term deliveries occur after 28weeks. The odds are, most pilots will have a normal flight as most women will have a normal pregnancy. But if safety is the prime objective the pregnant pilot should honestly consider both FAR 61.53 and their fitness/functionality for events such as extreme turbulence or a crash. Pregnancy requires 9-14 doctor visits and 15-20% of women are hospitalized for non-delivery care. Women may have secondary problems from pregnancy such as poor / inadequate sleep, generalized discomfort, mood swings and urinary infections.
Most pilots would agree that taking unnecessary risks during flying is poor judgment but few pilots ask themselves the hard questions when they feel they must fly. Pregnant pilots should ask themselves hard questions:
(1) Is this pregnancy normal?
(2) Does this pregnancy pose significant vulnerabilities?
(3) Is flying this airplane or this specific flight operation risky for this pregnant pilot?
(4) Would I take this flight if it were not for the money?
(5) Am I taking an unnecessary risk?
If you have a high-risk pregnancy, we can help!
We have helped thousands of pilots with this process. We work directly with private physicians and the FAA to assure compliance with FAA regulations, to solve corporate obstacles and to resolve complex aeromedical certification issues quickly.