Study shows UK commercial pilots with insulin-treated diabetes can fly with no safety concerns

A study presented at this year’s European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) meeting in Munich, Germany (12-16 September), shows that UK commercial airline pilots with insulin-treated diabetes can fly safely, with almost all of their blood sugar readings at safe levels.

In 2012, the UK became the second country worldwide, after Canada, to issue insulin-treated individuals with Class 1 Medical Certificates for Commercial Pilot Licences (CPLs). The study, conducted by medical staff at Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford, Surrey, UK and the UK Civil Aviation Authority, Gatwick Airport, UK, examined the comprehensive protocol, developed by a panel of medical and aviation experts, which governs the medical certification of insulin-treated pilots. Certificated pilots are subject to strict requirements, directly overseen by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) medical departments, including pre- and in-flight blood glucose monitoring. This study aimed to evaluate the early experience and safety of the UK programme.

With the pilots’ consent, the files for all insulin-treated, Class 1-certificated pilots were reviewed and data were collected. Dr Hine of the study explained, “A growing number of insulin-treated pilots have successfully applied for Commercial Pilots’ Licences in the UK and most recently Ireland. To date, the CAA protocol has shown to work well in the cockpit, with no reported safety concerns, and without deterioration of diabetes control.”

The study will be repeated, with these pilots and additional insulin-treated pilots who have gained Class 1 Medical certificates since the data were collected remaining under close follow up. Further data collection and analysis will follow. If commercial pilots are already licensed and develop diabetes after getting their licence, these pilots can apply for a Class 1 Medical certificate under the protocol described for insulin treated pilots. They must show that they have excellent control of their diabetes, with no significant complications and they must comply with the pre- and in- flight blood glucose monitoring protocol.

The UK now has the largest cohort of insulin-treated pilots, and is aiming to create and maintain employment and leisure opportunities for people with insulin-treated diabetes.