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Can You Become an Airline Pilot If You Have ADHD?




Over the years we’ve had many prospective students ask us if they can become airline pilots if they have ADHD.

As is the case with many health concerns, the FAA may issue you a medical certificate—and you can, therefore, become a pilot—if you have or have had a history of having ADHD.

But be aware—the devil is in the details.

The path forward will have a few extra steps compared to someone who has never been diagnosed. If you are actively taking ADHD medications, however, you will be unable to get a medical. 

Here’s a look at how the FAA evaluates ADHD diagnoses for pilot and ATC medical certificates. 

Bottom line: The FAA changed its policies in late 2023, so things are looking good for those wishing to become pilots with a history of ADHD.

What is ADHD and How Does It Affect Your Flying?

ADHD, or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental disorder.

Estimates are that ADHD affects up to five percent of children and up to about 2.5 percent of adults. Symptoms include inattention and impulsivity—so it’s no wonder the FAA would be concerned about its effects on pilots. 

Data has shown that more than 70 percent of aviation accidents can be attributed to pilot error.

G1000 avionics in a Piper Archer

This is often due to their cognitive performance—how they deal with distractions and general aeronautical decision making (ADM). Accidents like this are more likely to occur if the pilot has a condition like ADHD that could negatively affect these key piloting skills. 

Indeed, the NTSB has investigated accidents that have been attributed to a pilot’s ADHD.

Causal factors include failure to adequately prepare for the flight, continuing the flight in poor conditions, and distractions that lead to critical errors.

Due to all of these factors, most aviation authorities around the world consider ADHD to be disqualifying for pilots. 

Unfortunately, ADHD is often mis- or overdiagnosed.

Proper diagnosis is complex and takes time, and medical providers often rush to prescribe medications and assign a diagnosis. So there’s a substantial population of people who have been diagnosed, yet many of them never had the condition.

This poses a problem when a student enters flight school because they will likely be denied an FAA medical certificate should they disclose a history of ADHD or medication use. 

How To Become a Pilot If You Have a History of ADHD

In late 2023, the FAA changed course and revised its policy regarding pilots and ADHD diagnosis.

Before the changes, any medical certificate that included ADHD history was handled by FAA staff in Washington, an extensive and time-consuming process. 

Becoming a pilot with ADHD

With the new changes, AMEs (Aviation Medical Examiners) can sometimes issue you a medical certificate at the time of your exam. Follow the steps outlined in the FAA’s ADHD Fast Track Evaluation Checklist.

For this to happen, however, you must meet the following criteria:

  1. You haven’t had treatment, and you haven’t used ADHD medication (for any reason) in the past four years
  2. You haven’t had any symptoms of ADHD in the past four years
  3. You can provide detailed records that show you haven’t had any instability in academic or occupational pursuits in the past four years
  4. You have no other psychiatric conditions or diagnosis

Before seeing the AME, you will want to work with a psychologist or neuropsychologist with training in evaluating ADHD.

Meeting with them first and having them complete the required documentation will provide the AME with the information they need to issue you a medical on the spot. 

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But what if you don’t meet these criteria? Don’t worry—you can likely still get medical approval from the FAA. 

If the AME can’t issue you a certificate on the same day, they can recommend you to the FAA for evaluation using the standard track ADHD evaluations

To proceed, you will have to discontinue your ADHD medications for 90 days and then meet with a HIMS neuropsychologist for evaluation.

CFI teaching new pilots

HIMS neuropsychologists are trained to test the cognition of pilot applicants; there is a list of providers on the FAA’s website. They can determine if you have aeromedically significant ADHD.

The reviews will take a few months to complete and will be signed off by the FAA in Washington. 

In the end, you may still be denied if you’re found to have disqualifying ADHD.

However, many are issued unrestricted or special issuance (SI) medicals. An SI medical might be time-limited, requiring further monitoring or assessment. 

ADHD and Pilots

It’s important to note that the FAA is not allowing pilots currently taking ADHD medications or experiencing symptoms of ADHD to fly.

What they are doing with the new rules is simply recognizing that many people were diagnosed years ago and acknowledging that past diagnosis or use of meds is not necessarily grounds for denial. 

And while there are some hoops to jump through, pilots with a past diagnosis of ADHD can become pilots and work for the airlines. 

The good news is that once these evaluations are completed and you’ve been issued your medical certificate, you won’t have to worry about the process again.

You’ll be able to go to the AME and walk out with your medical just like most other pilots.

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