Guide to Class 1 Medical Assessment
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Being a pilot is probably an occupation which has one of the most stringent medical requirements in the world. All airline pilots must hold a Class 1 Medical License, which is valid for 12 months, until the age of 60 where the validity becomes shortened to 6 months. To renew the license, you will need to visit a Designated Medical Examiner (DME), a Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) certified aviation doctor, for a check-up starting from 45 days before it expires.
Note: This medical license is separate from your Flight Crew License. To operate an aircraft, you will need the appropriate valid Flight Crew License paired with a valid Medical License
The Class 1 Medical License examination can be categorised into two types:
Class 1 Initial
Class 1 Renewal
Applying for Class 1 Initial
Upon passing all stages of the interview process, candidates will receive an invitation to do a medical check-up. All budding pilots will then proceed by applying for a Class 1 Initial medical examination, with Singapore Airlines candidates enjoying the privilege of having the medical cost reimbursed. Most will never have to do an Initial medical examination again, unless their license has lapsed for a period of 2 years or longer. Once you have successfully passed the Class 1 Initial medical examination and awarded a Class 1 Medical License, you will then subsequently apply for the Class 1 Renewal close to your license expiry date.
As expected of an Initial medical examination, it is extremely comprehensive, thorough and rigorous as it is the first time a CAAS DME scrutinises your health or existing medical conditions (if any), so will understandably err on the more cautious side. CAAS has appointed designated clinics for which you can undergo the Class 1 Initial medical examination as they are equipped with the necessary facilities. Should the DME not be satisfied on any aspect of the medical, they may require you to consult a specialist for additional checks before returning to them with the final results. In such a situation, Singapore Airlines candidates will not be covered by the airline.
After all required medical documents are compiled, the DME will submit them for review by the CAAS Medical Board. The Medical Board is a panel of DMEs who meet about twice a week to discuss aviation medical affairs and also to review the medical results of pilots. It is relatively normal for the Medical Board to take longer than expected to analyse and deliberate over the tests and submissions of your Initial medical examination to ensure you are fit and able to operate the aircraft. After all, they are going to have to make the decision whether to issue you a Class 1 Medical License and assign you the responsibility of the hundreds of lives on board, so it is natural that they are careful with each and every decision they make.
Be rest assured that subsequent Class 1 Renewal medical examinations will not be that mentally stressful an event. By then, both CAAS and their assigned DMEs should be well informed of your health and condition, so it becomes more of a routine. You will also probably not be required to perform all the tests carried out during the Initial examination but instead perform select tests every alternate year instead, unless specified by the DME. Do note that you will still have to undergo a more detailed and thorough medical every 4th cycle.
Being awarded a Class 1 Medical License may not necessarily mean airline acceptance
“A Class 1 Medical License is necessary for acceptance into the airline. But a Class 1 Medical License may not necessarily mean the airline wants to accept you.”
Granted, it is a necessity to be successfully granted a Class 1 Medical License to be accepted into any airline’s cadet pilot programme. However, it is not unheard of for a candidate to receive a rejection letter from the airline’s HR despite having obtained a Class 1 Medical License. Moreover, the airlines’ rejection letter will not disclose the reason or medical condition responsible, making it extremely hard to pinpoint the exact cause for rejection.
You may scratch your head as to why there may be different standards set by CAAS and the airlines. This may best be explained with the fact that CAAS is simply just tasked with determining the general fitness of the candidate in flying the aircraft, whereas there are many more conditions to which the airline are subjected to. It is an extremely long-term commitment to recruit and hire a cadet pilot, as flying is more often than not a life-long career. An airline lays out tons of money into each pilot for training and development through the years until retirement, hence their meticulous contemplations as to whether their ‘investments’ will pay off in the long run.
There are certain occasions where the airline may choose not to send a rejection letter, but instead opt to send the cadet to consult their doctor or specialist of choice. This is so that more thorough checks can be performed such that the airline can make a more informed decision. Costs are borne by the candidate and not the airline. This usually only happens if the medical condition is not of huge significance and will not pose any issues to flight operations, whereas a condition that is more severe and which the airline believes may be of or potentially be of concern will typically receive a rejection letter without said additional consultation.
Generally, it can be safe to say that celebrations are in order after receiving an approval of a Class 1 Medical License from CAAS. However, it is not uncommon to be thrown a party pooper in the form of a rejection letter from the airline a few weeks after. It ultimately depends on what medical condition you have been diagnosed with and how comfortable the airline is with accepting it.
Which airline's medical standards are the most stringent?
The aforementioned issue has been observed to be more prominent at Singapore Airlines than other airlines. It is believed that as Singapore Airlines’ cadet pilot programme is sponsored, the management tend to perhaps exercise more caution and be more selective about their recruitments.
Scoot medical selection meanwhile is known to be less stringent than Singapore Airlines, albeit this does not necessarily mean a decline in medical standards. After all, if CAAS has deemed one fit to be awarded a Class 1 Medical License, they should and would definitely be more than capable health-wise in piloting the aircraft.
The lower stringent standards may be attributed to the co-sponsored nature of Scoot’s cadet pilot programme. As the cadets are already paying a large sum of the flight training themselves, Scoot does not need to absorb as large a risk in the event the cadet is not medically able to continue the training down the road, hence will more readily accept the cadet into their programme.
Prior statistics as obtained from pilot roadshows and forums show that a large proportion of candidates who managed to obtain a Class 1 Medical License but failed the Singapore Airlines doctor’s medical selection, are eventually accepted by Scoot when they subsequently apply to join the budget carrier’s programme instead. This may be a second lifeline for those who are truly keen in choosing a career in the flight deck. It is a win-win for Scoot; by offering a cadet whose condition may not have been deemed satisfactory by their parent airline but actually remains more than fit enough to pilot an aircraft a place in their programme, they have successfully recruited a pilot who is fully committed to the mission and the cause.
Appealing the airline's rejection for medical reasons
Being rejected from your dream job is definitely a situation of despair and sorrow. It may seem like a door being slammed shut on you with all hopes lost. This is especially so if the reason for rejection is related to your medical. Being awarded a Class 1 medical license but rejected by the airline is undoubtedly a tough pill to swallow, and may seem like an irreversible rejection. It is here that we would like to dish out a piece of advice - “If you do not attempt to uncover the source of light, you will never find your way out of the tunnel.”
In all essence - if you never try, you will never know. Firstly, stay calm and analyse the following pointers:
What is the most likely medical reason resulting in your rejection?
Were you previously aware of it and have you done anything prior to the medical to address it?
What are your specialists’ and CAAS’ opinion of your condition?
Should you be aware that your condition has actually been mis-diagnosed or wrongly diagnosed, or will actually not significantly impede your chances of getting into the programme, you may opt to see your specialist, or several specialists to obtain the relevant reports to back up your diagnosed medical condition. These reports can help indicate that the severity of your condition is not as serious as previously diagnosed and will not affect your ability to fly. Once you have obtained the necessary documents and reports, you may re-submit to HR in an attempt to appeal the rejection.
We would like to point out that your frequency of emails to the airline’s HR or point of contact will not positively correlate to your chances of being accepted into the cadet pilot programme. Instead,it will prove to be extremely unprofessional of a rejected candidate to flood them with questions or explanations concerning the rejection, alongside requests for appeal or clarification in a bid to try and budge their way into the programme.
Sending a fastidious email to the relevant point of contact with updated documents and reports regarding your medical condition should be sufficient to merit a potential re-consideration. However, do take note that the aforementioned advice is based on our personal knowledge and word-of-mouth, and even though there have been prior occurrences of success through this process, it does not necessarily prove to be a sure fire solution.