Pregnant Pilots and Their Employers
The 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
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
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.
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
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
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?
you have a high-risk pregnancy, we can help!
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.
Contact us at 800-699-4457 or via E-Mail to confidentially discuss the
your case and to establish your eligibility for FAA medical certification.
There is no charge for an initial consultation.