Real Answers from Real Pilots

Special Issuance and Major Airline Hiring as a newcomer

Hello,
Thanks to anyone willing to take the time to answer my question as it is kind of specific. I have searched quite a few forums for related topics, but I haven’t found an answer that was as specific as I’d like for my situation. I have been seeing a HIMS AME for a special issuance Class 1 medical certificate. I have already spent a solid amount of money for this process which I understand to be an investment in and of itself. My end goal is to be a pilot for a major airline. I understand that I will be spending over 100k on this goal, but to me that is worth it for a fantastic career. I know nothing is guaranteed, but I am ok with that part of that. However, I was in treatment for drug dependence (cocaine, alcohol) about 4 years ago and have been sober ever since. I was self admitted with no legal troubles at all. I offered this information up willingly on my own to my AME which I understand not everyone does. What I was unaware of was that although a major airline or any airline hiring me cannot see that I am special issuance on my medical and they are not able to see my medical records, they can basically deduce that I am special issuance based on the dates on my medical. I have seen on some forums that a regional airline is less likely to care, but I really want to know that I can get on at a major airline just like any other hard working man or woman even with a special issuance. Can anyone please speak from experience or offer up any knowledge on this topic for me? I know that HIMS and special issuance has been a great tool for many to salvage their careers, but how about me as an aspiring pilot with no experience?

Jonah,

Short answer is (as you mention) there’s no guarantee any pilot will make it to a Major airline. Flying for a Major is the pinnacle of this industry and for some it just doesn’t happen (and that’s under ideal circumstances). The fact is you will have an SI medical and while the airlines generally don’t ask they can. You say there were no legal issues which is good but if anything was pled down, expunged, etc it will come out.

So to your question as to will you have the same chance as “any other hard working man or woman”? Maybe but maybe not. By definition the word “special” means you’re medical is not the same as every other pilot’s. Moreover the reason for your SI is a problem. I don’t mean to be harsh but the general public wants their pilots to be squeaky clean. If you should have an accident your past will come out and that’s a potential liability to the airline which frankly they don’t need. The Regionals are more forgiving but Majors don’t need to be. While it’s possible you could make it I wouldn’t be shocked if you didn’t.

Adam

Jonah,

I will be honest, I think you have a hard road ahead of you and I cannot say with any certainty that you will be successful, nor can I say that you will be unsuccessful. I would recommend calling the recruiting departments of several regional airlines and asking them directly.

Chris

Chris,
I appreciate the honesty. Just like anything in life there is inherent risks and I fully understand that the Majors is the dream job and that in and of itself is something nobody could guarantee for anyone. I am at peace with that, my question is to what degree does my history of treatment take me out of the running generally speaking. Certainly something for me to consider as I don’t want to make such a big investment in something knowing that my ceiling is lower going in. I appreciate the response and honesty, thanks!

Noah

Adam,
Yes, the major are certainly not a guarantee, that’s the big leagues. Nothing is guaranteed in any profession and piloting is no exception. I’m all good with the inherent risks, but am really trying to narrow down what the real pulse of the industry is and how more larger of a challenge are the major airlines for a newcomer simply because I have been to treatment in the past. There was no bleeding down, expungement, etc. Nothing. Just a guy who partied too much and was as transparent as possible with his AME. I was reading that HIMs and special issuance is something that is actually increasing in its intensity instead of becoming more liberal and something a pilot can move on from after 5 years. Seems like that is a “forever” sort of thing now, so the risks and expenses with all that in mind are pretty large, although no insurmountable. Taking out such a large loan for something knowing my ceiling is lower going in is certainly something I’m looking for a firm answer about, but it seems like its sort of fluid and depends on the needs of the airlines at that moment. Anyways, thanks for the wisdom and response.

Noah

Noah,

And we’d like to give you a firm answer but frankly anyone who does is lying. There is no book of rules when it comes to these things. Interviews are conducted by people. If there’s someone on your panel who has a family member who had some substance issues they could be very sympathetic. It could also easily be the reverse. I had a friend who did interviews years ago who’s brother was killed by someone with a DUI. If he heard the words drug or alcohol you were done. Is that right? Who can say but again we’re talking about people and emotions vs hard facts and numbers.

That all said I return to my original statement that you agree with that nothing is guaranteed with or without your SI. I say this because I advise ANYONE who wants to pursue this career to be realistic. IF you’re successful in training (which not everyone is) your chances of getting hired by a Regional are pretty good. Anything beyond that is gravy. If you can be happy flying a really nice RJ around the country, flying with some really nice people making approx $100k then by all means go for it. If however you’d consider that to be a failure and a waste of your time and money then this may not be the career for you.

Adam

Jonah,

Honestly, I have no idea. I have flown with one pilot at UAL who was hired wit a special issuance for alcohol dependence, but that is a far cry from cocaine. I really do not know. I would suggest contacting recruiting departments and asking them directly.

Chris