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  flying for the disabled

flying for the disabled

disabled pilot John de Frayssinet after taking a World Air Speed Record

There is often the idea that only fit 'Hurray Henrys' can pilot aircraft. Actually, nothing is further from the truth. A convention was signed in Chicago years back between most sensible countries that allowed pilots who passed standard fitness criteria within their own countries, to fly into others using their own license.

Those with disabilities do not of course comply with the Chicago convention, but most Western Countries have made it possible for disabled pilots to fly within their boundaries. Of course, some countries are more reasonable than others, France (by far), the UK, Canada, the Antipodes and the USA are probably the best.

A disabled pilot, before flying to another country, must apply for permission. They have to send a copy of their license and medical certificate with a covering letter to the country's aviation authority. In most cases, you receive permission quite quickly, with the exceptions, (in the West) of Spain, (who never respond), Belgium (who can take up to year year), and Portugal (who expect you to take a local medical flight test).

The letters of permission must be carried by the disabled pilot when visiting that country.

Disability is often viewed as those who use a wheelchair. Actually, about 90% of officially disabled pilots do not. Disablement takes many forms, from deafness, eyesight problems, diabetes, to amputations etc. etc.

In most cases, disabled people are able to train alongside the able bodied at your local flying club. Difficulties arise when a specially adapted aircraft is needed. Here, you may have to travel further, and find a club who can offer the correct aircraft. This information is made available on a number of websites.

For those who have difficulties with leg movement, some aircraft (Pipers in particular) are easier to covert than others. Other aircraft can be converted specially, although it does take time to obtain the necessary permissions and engineering design. There are plenty of experts who can advise.

At some point during training, a disabled person does have to jump one additional hurdle. This is what is called a medical flight test. Here, the examiner determines that you are able to control the aircraft as well as an able bodied person with that level of training. It is not hard to pass, and is usually quite flexible.

Many disabled people go on to fly their own adapted aircraft and take part in anything from aerobatics to air racing.

Some disablements (heart problems and diabetes for instance) may mean that at all times, you have to fly with what is called a 'safety pilot'. This is someone qualified to fly that aircraft and who can take over if the disabled person becomes unwell. This is not as bad as it sounds, as usually, one can always find a volunteer.

The picture at many airfields is not so good however. For those with mobility difficulties, some airfields still will not allow you to park in reach of facilities and will not provide transportation from your aircraft. Bergerac, France, is one of the worst offenders here. For the most part though, if you radio to the tower that you have walking difficulties, help will be forthcoming. Far better is to telephone in advance with your special needs.

Many airfields however, do make it difficult for someone in a wheelchair to access all facilities. One large airfield in the UK, for instance, has built a wonderful new restaurant with interior ramps, special toilets etc. but has left a 4" step to actually enter the facility. Disabled aircraft parking would be a jolly good idea too.

here are some of the specialist websites.  by far the best site (for microlights)  (about Visionair hand controls)