Aviation Medicine

Flight travel exposes passengers to a number of adverse factors due to changes in air pressure, humidity, oxygen concentration and so many others.Some passengers with health risks associated with air travel may have difficulty in getting accustomed to these factors. Under such circumstances, people get quick medical attention by specially trained medical practitioners.  Also safety is a major component of aviation. Safety in the hands of aviation crew, mainly the pilots is pivotal in running aircrafts and in managing aviation with zero incidents/accidents/human failures occurring therein. In order to ensure that pilots have the physical capability-in medical terms-to fly safely and to mitigate any possible risk of medical disability, they have to be checked and tested periodically by qualified medical doctors who are experienced in the medical field as applied to aviation, namely, Aviation Medicine.              

Aviation Medicine is a study of prescribed medical parameters and standards of fitness to fly including performance of tests to ensure such standards are met and in turn to maintain acceptable flight safety of passengers and crew.

To be precise, Aviation Medicine, also known as Flight Medicine or Aerospace Medicine, is a medical specialty that combines preventive, occupational, environmental and clinical medicine aspects of aviation medicine. It is mainly concerned with the health and safety of pilots, aircrews and the persons involved in the flight. The military practitioners of aviation medicine are called flight surgeons, while the civil practitioners of aviation medicine are called aviation medical examiners. 

Such Aerospace Medical Specialists usually carry out crew training in first aid and also plan in advance in making of passengers recover from illness. They also assist paramedical professionals and apply principles of preventive medicine for avoiding diseases that may spread during the flight travel. In addition to all these, these specialists also conduct post-flight medical evaluations of pilots and other crew in identifying the adverse effects of space flights on their bodies. These medical practitioners also help in developing vehicles, emergency systems and protective equipment of aerospace flights.

Paul Bert of France is regarded as the father of modern aviation medicine. His observations on the effects of high and low pressure on balloonists led the way for research in space research and consequently the technical advancements were made in space search. As a result of all these technological enhancements, aviation medicine has been recognized as an important medical specialty.

Aviation Medicine includes following medical specialities as applied and specific to Aviation sector.

  • Physiology and Medicine
  • Psychiatry and Psychology
  • Pathology
  • Biophysics
  • Clinical and surgical programs
  • Aviation medical standards and policy.
  • Aviation safety and ergonomics
  • Susceptibilities studies in treating medical conditions of aviation risks to pilots crews and passengers.

The Aviation Medicine sector works in collaboration with UN agencies such as World Health Organization (WHO) and some of the non-governmental organizations such as International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airport Council International (ACI). There will be often consultations between chief medical officers of civil aviation and medical directors of airline companies around the world to ensure air travel safety, on all occasions.

Careers in Aviation Medicine

There are many opportunities for students who want to pursue their career in the aviation medicine all around the globe. The Minimum qualification in India to join as a Medical Officer/ Flight Surgeon/First Aid Instructor requires a degree in MBBS and other qualifications that vary with the civil or military institution. The Medical officers and flight surgeons are mostly involved in treating medical emergencies of passengers, while the first aid instructors are required to conduct training and first-aid audits. Latter  are required to design and develop training modules, manuals and learning aids and update course contents. 

Some of these Aviation Institutions also require a certificate/degree course in Aviation Medicine in addition to the graduate degree or post graduate degree in medicine. The field surgeons/medical officers have opportunities to work in some of the world’s biggest airlines such as Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airways, Jet Airways and many others. Some of the institutes like U. S. Air Force have openings for Aerospace Physiology specialists, who are needed to conduct training for pilots and crews about oxygen masks, pressure suits, hyperbaric chambers and so on.

The civilian physicians trained in Aviation Medicine also have opportunities to work in medical research, commercial space flight operations, airline medical department and military, government and non-governmental agencies that have aviation sectors. Qualified Aviation Medical Examiners in Civilian Airlines and Flight Surgeons in Military are appointed respectively in these designations to carry out periodic mandatory routine tests in pilots/aircrews and certify that they are medically fit to fly or serve civil and military aircrafts. As per international standards there are three-of such mandatory certifications which have to be necessarily done by qualified Aviation medical doctors only.

Pre-requisites for entering the aviation medicine stream are

All the organizations involved in Aviation Medicines require the candidate to be physically and mentally fit for performing the aviation duties.

Physical and Mental requirements: An applicant of Aviation Medicine should not have any congenital or acquired abnormalities or active, latent or acute or chronic disability, as such disabilities would make a person interfere with the safe operation of aircraft. He/She should not have any major injuries/wound or sequelae from operations. Also, He/She should not have any side-effect of any prescribed or non-prescribed diagnostic or preventive medicine taken.