Canada Eases Pilot Diabetes Restrictions

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Canada has dropped its ban on pilots with pre-existing Type 1 diabetes becoming commercial pilots. In 2001, the agency made pre-existing insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetes a disqualifying condition for the commercial medical even though it had previously allowed pilots who developed diabetes after obtaining their commercial license to continue flying. Private pilot Austen McDonald, who has Type 1 diabetes, and his commercial pilot father Ed McDonald have been lobbying Transport Canada to change the policy for several years. “Up until now, pilots who already had their commercial license when they became insulin-dependent could apply for a medical certificate to keep flying,” the elder McDonald said. “But no one who already was on insulin could do the same. It really made no sense to us.”

Diabetes Canada joined the effort and helped convince officials to change the policy largely by using Transport Canada’s own evidence. “Canada has been a world leader for over 15 years in allowing commercial pilots to continue flying while taking insulin for their diabetes and has amassed thousands of hours of flying time without any diabetes-related safety incidents,” the group said in a news release. Pilots with diabetes have to test their blood sugar levels in the cockpit and have an insulin pump and sugar pills with them to manage those levels if necessary. “There was no medical justification for preventing people with diabetes from applying for the certificate needed to get their commercial pilot license when hundreds of people who were already pilots when they developed diabetes continue to fly safely,” said Dr. Peter Senior, chair of Diabetes Canada’s Professional Section.