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The Case of the Pregnant Student Pilot

This is a true story and like most true stories that end up in print, it doesn't read like one...This is a true story and like most true stories that end up in print, it doesn't read like one. Last year one of my student pilots, told me that she and her husband were expecting. A pregnant student pilot? That really got me thinking...

My student wanted to know if she could continue her flying lessons while pregnant, at least up to the solo flight. I told her that if her doctor said it was okay, then it was okay with me -- but then I remembered the student pilot limitations of regulation 61.89 and I decided to have a little fun.

I have a friend who is an FAA inspector. This particular inspector has always been fair and even handed, but he is also known for his extremely strict interpretations of the regulations. He likes to take a regulation apart and dissect the meaning of each and every word. I consider him to be very thorough, but some call him 'picky.' I decided this guy would be just the right character to introduce to my unfolding story. I called him up and posed the following scenario. I told him that I had a student pilot who was pregnant. I told him that in the next couple of weeks I believed that I would be signing her off for her first solo flight despite the fact that she was pregnant.

Then I said to the FAA inspector, 'now I don't want to be violating any rules here so I want you to tell me, if she flies solo while pregnant will she be violating the no-passenger rule? [FAR 61.89(a)(1)]' He did not respond. I hit him again. 'I know the US Supreme Court has never been able to determine once and for all when life begins, so I think you guys at the FAA ought to in this case. Because if 'life has begun' for my student's baby and then I let her fly solo, it seems to me that she would be carrying a passenger, which, of course, is not a legal thing for a student pilot to do... What do you think I should do?' I rather expected he would laugh this off. He didn't.

Note to self: Never underestimate the seriousness with which an FAA man approaches his work.

A few weeks went by and the FAA inspector forwarded me the response from the FAA's legal council in Atlanta. The legal council beat around the bush a little concerning the definition of a passenger, but when it came to the pregnancy question the FAA's official response was -- and I'm quoting, 'We won't touch that one with a 10-foot pole.'

Case closed.

The student later did fly solo in an airplane that had two seats. After the solo I found out that she was in fact pregnant... with twins! So... did that mean she also violated the rule that requires all passengers to be in a seat or berth? [FAR 91.107(a)(3)]. After all, she flew solo with two passengers in an airplane with only two seats! The passengers have not reached their second birthdays (let alone their original birthdays!) but would the FAA consider the womb as 'proper restraint'? Don't worry, I learned my lesson the first time and did *not* call my FAA inspector friend back to find out.

BOTTOM LINE: Women can fly while pregnant either as a student pilot, a private pilot, or even an airline pilot. If you are pregnant you, of course, should consult your doctor before continuing flight activity. People talk, play music, and sing to their unborn babies -- why not bring them more good vibrations? Why not get them started -- early -- in flying!

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About This Author:
Paul A. Craig is a Gold Seal Multiengine and Instrument Flight Instructor. He currently holds a total of 11 Flight Certificates including his ATP. Craig is a previous winner of the North Carolina and Tennessee Flight Instructor of the Year award, the NCVT Outstanding Teacher award and has served as the regional representative of the National Air and Space Museum. Craig is an FAA Aviation Safety Counselor and the author of eight books, including Pilot In Command, The Killing Zone: How and Why Pilots Die, and Controlling Pilot Error: Situational Awareness (all from McGraw Hill).
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