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Landmark decision for pilots with diabetes

31 August 2012

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has announced that qualified pilots and air traffic controllers with diabetes treated with insulin and other medications can carry out full operation duties, including flying commercial aircraft. The decision has been welcomed by Diabetes UK, JDRF and the group Pilots with Diabetes.

Licensed pilots and air traffic controllers who have diabetes will need to demonstrate good overall control of the condition before gaining medical qualifications to fly. Pilots with diabetes have already been able to fly recreationally since 2002 but the new policy allows full flying privileges once medical requirements are met.

 Karen Addington, Chief Executive of JDRF said:  

'Over recent years significant advances have been made with regard to controlling type 1 diabetes and its associated complications, which have helped make the condition more manageable. The CAA has recognised this, and subject to rigorous monitoring and testing regimes, personnel will now be able to carry out their duties unrestricted.' 

Pilots With Diabetes formed in 2007 to promote flying with insulin treated diabetes. Member Douglas Cairns, former RAF pilot instructor and holder of 12 aviation speed records, commented:

'The UK is now understood to be the second country in the world to enable commercial flying with diabetes after Canada and is the only country to enable both commercial flying and full private flying privileges. There have been positive developments for recreational flying with diabetes already over the last 10 years in the UK. It is now a very positive step for pilots with diabetes, and indeed people with diabetes, to see the introduction of both commercial and full private flying opportunities here in the UK.' 

Guidance information will shortly be issued by the CAA to pilots and air traffic controllers setting out the new procedures. This includes the details of operational restrictions and in-flight testing regimes.

UK Diabetes Formation Flight

The announcement coincides with the UK Diabetes Formation Flight to be led by Douglas this Saturday (1 September). Six pilots from Pilots With Diabetes will take off from Nottingham Airport and aim to set a new national formation speed record from Derby to Southampton. The pilots all have insulin treated diabetes and have all either lost professional flying careers on diagnosis of diabetes or previously had restrictions applied to flying activities or career ambitions

The pilots will fly six aircraft in the form of a 'D' for almost two hours, passing over six villages and towns whose first letters will sequentially spell the word “DIABETES” from start to finish, finally landing at Goodwood (Chichester) Airport. The villages and towns that spell diabetes are: Derby, Ibstock, Ashton Flameville (near Hinckley), Buckingham, Emmington (hamlet near Thame), Twyford, Earley (by Reading), Southampton (Airport).

The pilots, all National Private Pilot Licence Holders, include:

  • Douglas Cairn, UK Diabetes Formation Flight organiser and former RAF pilot instructor. Holder of 12 aviation speed records including a flight to the North Pole from Alaska in 2011, and co-ordinator of Flying With Diabetes.
  • Damian Fessey,a fellow-founder member of Pilots With Diabetes and private pilot for 10 years. 
  • George Duncan, a balloonist world record holder and former British Airways pilot. 
  • Karl Beetson, joint aviation national speed record holder of Around Britain’s Coastline.
  • Matt Ponsford, a private pilot since 2010. 
  • James D’Arcy, joint holder of a speed record to land in all 48 contiguous states of the USA and winner of London to Sydney air race in 2001.

Everyone at JDRF wishes Douglas and the team the best of luck with their record attempt on Saturday.

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