Frequently Asked Questions
BECOME A DEAF PILOT
How can deaf pilots fly if they cannot hear?
Airports (and airspace) can be of two kinds: controlled or uncontrolled. Pilots operating at controlled airports or in controlled airspace are required to be in radio contact with Air Traffic Control (ATC), or they can use light signals with prior arrangement and approval by the airport control tower management. At uncontrolled airports, however, pilots are only encouraged, but not required, to use their radio to directly advise other pilots in the area of their positions and intentions. Thus, deaf pilots are able to fly into and out of uncontrolled airports without using the radio. What's more, out of 5,300 airports in the United States, only about 500 have control towers, and many of those are part time. Most deaf pilots find very little in the way of radio-related obstacles!
How do I start the process of becoming a pilot?
The easiest and quickest way to get started is to go to the following website:
Type in your city & state and the website will return a list of airports closest to you. Click on the link taking you to the airport information page. Then, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page - there, you should find information on services located at that airport.
There is a lot of aviation-related information on this website, so it may appear overwhelming at first, but this will be the easiest way to find your closest airport and get direct contact information to services on that airport.
Once you have done this and found the business you are interested in, you will want to call or email or even go in person, and ask for a discovery/intro flight. This will get you into an airplane and allow you to experience taking the controls of an aircraft.
This step is important because flying is not for everybody, and you may find that flying does not suit you, or that your body does not handle it well. However, if you love it and want more, then the fight school can guide you towards the next step, which will most likely be scheduling your first lesson(s).
How does the process of becoming a deaf pilot differ from a hearing pilot's?
The process differs in three primary areas:
First, your communication with your flight instructor (called a CFI) will need to be tailored to your needs. Often, deaf student pilots have increased ground instruction time to make up for the lack of in-flight communication, and to thoroughly pre-plan what will occur during the flight. With a hearing pilot, the instructor can explain things as you go along. With a deaf pilot, that can be somewhat more difficult, so there may be additional explaining before and after the flight lessons. A common method of in-flight communication is using a small whiteboard, an ipad scratchpad, or a notepad.
Second, your medical certification process will take an additional step to complete. Thankfully, it is a one-time procedure. When you start your flight lessons, you will need to obtain a student pilot certificate. However, you most likely will recieve a certificate that says something along the lines of "Not valid for solo flight". In order to have this restriction removed, you will need to arrange for a Statement of Demonstrated Ability with your local Flight Standards District Office. This is a simple flight that you do with a person from the FAA, who will observe your ability to safely operate/fly the aircraft regardless of your hearing loss. Once this flight is completed, you will recieve a new medical certificate with the limitation replaced with one that says "Not valid where radio use is required", among any other unique limitations you may have (such as "glasses required", etc).
Third, you will have to do three takeoffs and landings at a towered airport - as a deaf pilot this poses a challenge because we cannot hear the radio in order to communicate with the tower. In order to solve this issue, we have to arrange for the use of light signals in leiu of voice communications. This will have to be arranged with your airport tower manager, who your CFI can help you get in touch with. However, it is a very easy and simple process, and is actually enjoyable for some deaf pilots to use light signals.
***Important Note*** You may have issues with being told that you cannot fly at a towered airport, due to your medical certificate saying it is not valid where radio use is required. However, the FAA's legal department has confirmed that this CAN be waived at the discretion of the aircraft control tower.
Once I become a licensed pilot, what would my legal restrictions be?
You will carry the restriction that states "Not valid where radio use is required". This CAN be worked around in most circumstances related to airport operations.
If I cannot communicate with the tower or other aircraft, how can I avoid collisions?
Under Visual Flying Rules (VFR), under which most general aviation flights are conducted, you are responsible for seeing and avoiding other airplanes, and remaining well clear of clouds. As you learn to fly, you will develop a skill for spotting airplanes and adjusting your route of flight as necessary.
An incredibly valuable tool that would be worth investing in is getting a device capable of recieving ADS-B signals - these are signals transmitted by many aircraft that show their locations on a tablet or phone or even an on-board/panel mounted GPS. These devices will not show all aircraft, as not all aircraft are required to have a ADS-B transmitter, but a large number of them are required to have one, and a ADS-B reciever will see these aircraft and display them on a paired device.
If you have a hearing person on board, you can ask that person to monitor the local traffic frequency and pass on position reports made by other aircraft.
If you have a transponder on board, you can turn it on, which causes your plane’s position and altitude to appear on ATC’s radar screens. Then, ATC can inform other aircraft in the area of your whereabouts.
If you are capable of using your voice legibly, making announcements of your location and intentions is a very wise and helpful thing to do as well.
Can you tell me more about the medical certificate process?
Every person wanting to become a pilot must submit to a physical examination and apply for a medical certificate. This examination is done locally, by an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). The AME, upon finding that you are deaf, will defer your application for a medical certificate to the FAA Aeromedical Certification Branch in Oklahoma City for further review.
After 6-8 weeks, you will receive a letter asking you to arrange for a special medical flight test with a local FAA flight examiner. During this medical flight test, you will be asked to demonstrate recognition of imminent stalls and engine failure. If you pass this test, you will receive a “SODA”: Statement of Demonstrated Ability. Once you have this SODA, you only have to renew your medical certificate according the same regulations that all pilots adhere to.
Can't we use text-based technology to communicate?
There are a number of research efforts underway to move towards digital, non-voice, communications. The idea is that all air traffic control instructions, traffic advisories, and weather information will be digitally transmitted to the cockpit. The most promising projects include aeronautical datalink and ADS-B (automatic dependent surveillance broadcast). These technologies are currently being tested in commercial jets, and will likely make their way into general aviation aircraft within the next decade.
BEING A DEAF PILOT
How do I know when it is clear to land or take off?
For taking off, first you would determine the runway in use by observing wind direction and seeing what other aircraft are doing. You would then use the appropriate runway based on that information. You can turn the aircraft 360 degrees just before takeoff to observe the entire area around the airport, and take off when you verify that the landing approach area on both ends of the runway is clear of traffic.
For landing, most tablets and phones are capable of recieving enough of a signal to download weather information for the airport you are landing at, and this is useful for estimating which runway is likely to be in use. Some pilots also use audio transcription apps to "listen" to traffic in the area. Each uncontrolled airport has a standard traffic route that you enter at a specific location. By following a sequence of legs along this route, you have several opportunities to see and avoid other aircraft, both in the air, and on the ground, and when there are no aircraft in front of you, you can land.
What if there is an emergency? How can I call for help?
If you are making a long-distance flight over sparsely populated areas, you can file a flight plan before your departure. This can be done on the phone via relay services. Under Visual Flying Rules, the only purpose of your flight plan is to activate search and rescue operations if you fail to appear at your destination within thirty minutes of your estimated arrival time.
You can also set your aircraft’s transponder to a special code that alerts ATC to an emergency. If you are able to use your voice, you can also keep your aircraft tuned to an important tower or controlling agency in the area and transmit "MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY" and your location. Even if you say nothing more, they will send search and rescue out to look for you and assist you.
Additionally, there is a device on board all aircraft that triggers an alarm if an impact is felt, or if you trigger it manually - this device will transmit a signal that will allow rescuers to pinpoint your location and find you.
Is flying hard?
Flying is a matter of developing skill, and judgment. The operation of the plane’s controls is quite simple; it is the safe, precise, and consistent performance of a wide variety of flying maneuvers that takes practice and many hours to master. Judgment is developed by experiencing a variety of flying conditions, learning the extent of your skills, and discussing various “go or no-go” scenarios with your instructor and flying friends. Flying is one of the most fun and rewarding things you can ever do, and there is nothing quite like obtaining your pilot license!
Can deaf people fly alone? With their friends?
Yes! As a student pilot, your instructor must give permission for you to fly solo. Once you have your private pilot certificate, however, you are free to fly solo any time, as long as you operate within the limitations of your certificate. You are also allowed to fly with passengers - you absolutely can and should share your flying with others! You also have no limitations on when and where you can fly, other than the same restrictions that apply to all pilots. The ONLY difference between deaf pilots and hearing pilots is the ability to fly where you must use your radio to communicate.
Is flying dangerous?
As with cars, boats, trains, buses, and other modes of transportation, there is always an element of risk. As the Supreme Court ruled in 1972, “safe” doesn’t mean “risk-free.” You can actively manage the degree of risk by flying only in good weather conditions, remaining alert for other aircraft, keeping your airplane fueled and in good mechanical condition, and repeatedly practicing emergency procedures.
Is flying expensive?
The cost of obtaining a private pilot certificate can range from $7,000 to $10,000, depending on where you live and how long it takes for you to learn. Training airplanes rent for $90-$130 per hour, and instructors charge $40-60 per hour.
The average student pilot practices for about 70 hours, 20 of which are solo, before taking the flight test. Note that the hourly charge for rental airplanes only applies when the engine is running, not for the entire time of your reservation.
To put things into perspective, other people spend as much or more money on golf course memberships, sports-utility vehicles, pleasure boating, or mobile homes. Choosing to fly and to absorb the associated costs has to be a priority that you make in your life.
Our opinion? It’s worth every penny!
How do I meet other deaf pilots?
Join the Deaf Pilots Association! DPA represents deaf pilots’ interests with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Experimental Aircraft Association, and the National Association of Flight Instructors, and many other organizations. Each year, DPA sponsors a week-long fly-in, to which DPA members and their families come from all over to enjoy the fellowship of flight as well as to discuss mutual concerns. We also have a Facebook page!
BEYOND THE BASICS
Can deaf pilots become instructors?
The short answer is: yes, but it is extremely difficult and unpractical. To date, there are only two known deaf instructors, and only one of them is a flight instructor.
Besides being a private pilot, what other kinds of pilot licenses are there?
Pilot certifications can be Sport Pilot, Recreational Pilot, Private Pilot, Commercial Pilot, and Air Transport Pilot.
There are numerous other types, ratings, endorsements, etc that can be added on.
There are even airplanes that can be legally flown with no pilot license at all!
I have my pilot license, and I want more adanced ratings and certifications.
The logical next step after your pilot license is to get your Instrument Rating. However, this has some very unique and difficult challenges. This absolutely can be done - there are approximately 5 known deaf pilots who have their instrument rating. You will face some sizable resistance and opposition from various parties, but if this is something you would like to obtain, reach out to us, and we can help you with this.
Commercial Pilot is another certification that some of our more advanced pilots choose to pursue. The certification itself is slightly easier to obtain than the instrument rating, and you will have less resistance for it. However, it is geared towards those who want to work as a pilot, and it is extremely difficult to obtain a flying job as a deaf pilot. We are working towards changing that, and the more commerical deaf pilots we have, the better. So, again, if you are looking to obtain your Commercial Pilot Certificate, let us know so we can support and assist you! Also, note that obtaining your Commercial without your Instrument Rating is not recommended, and is very undesirable to most employers, so if you are serious about obtaining a job as a pilot, you may want to seriously consider obtaining your Instrument Rating first.
Other advanced add-ons you can pursue are: Tailwheel, High Performance, High Altitude, and Complex Endorsements. You can also get a Seaplane Rating, Multi-Engine Rating, and more!
You could even get a helicopter license!
There's a whole world out there, and the sky literally is the limit!