FAA Eliminates Unnecessary Psychological Testing for Transgender Pilots

By Camille Beredjick

Originally published on Advocate.com August 13 2012 3:44 PM ET

The Federal Aviation Administration has released new medical certification guidelines for transgender pilots, eliminating several rounds of unnecessary psychological testing that were once required.

The FAA requires thorough medical and psychological clearance of all pilots before they are allowed to fly. But trans pilots in particular were previously required to undergo additional psychological tests such as personality, projective, and intelligence tests, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

According to Harper Jean Tobin, director of public policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, the FAA guidelines were unclear in their stance on trans pilots and lacked any rational medical backing, resulting in a slew of unnecessary tests that singled out pilots who are trans.

"It was as though somebody had said, 'OK, we don't know a lot about transgender people, but we think something might be wrong with them,'" Tobin told The Advocate Monday. "There's no particular reason to think that just because someone is transgender or transitioning, they would have developed some kind of cognitive deficit."

The extra tests were tedious, expensive, and often had to be financed by the pilots themselves, and some pilots were grounded or lost their jobs based on the added requirements.

"[The tests] put a lot of people through a lot of cost and effort," Tobin says.

For at least two years, NCTE was aware of trans pilots who struggled with the medical requirements, and so the organization began providing the FAA with information they hoped would guide a change in the policy.

Now the FAA's Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners has modified its medical certification procedures for trans pilots, requiring only current clinical records, an evaluation from a psychologist or psychiatrist with experience in transgender issues, and, if the pilot has had surgery, a post-operative report.

Tobin says piloting is a heavily regulated profession and so adequate testing is to be expected, but that there's no reason to single out trans people for costly, arbitrary tests. 

"This sends a positive signal that being trans shouldn't create barriers to people being able to [perform] a highly-skilled job with a lot of responsibility," Tobin says. "We think this is going to make things a lot easier and fairer all the way around."