ADHD in Aviation

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a topic of concern when it comes to obtaining a pilot license. It’s crucial to understand these requirements to ensure a smooth process for obtaining a pilot license with ADHD. The pathway to becoming a pilot in Canada, even with an ADHD diagnosis, might be more accessible than one might think. Transport Canada‘s recent guidelines and approaches to ADHD in aviation medical certification provide a structured path forward for aspiring pilots. This post aims to demystify the process and address common concerns and questions that potential student pilots with ADHD might have.

ADHD. Abbreviation ADHD from paper letters . Chaotic blue red stripes background. ADHD is Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

What is ADHD?

ADHD includes the diagnosis according to the current criteria described in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition and the previous corresponding diagnoses described in earlier versions of the DSM, including ADD.

Key points about ADHD include:

  • It is estimated that ADHD is present in about 5% of children and 2.5% of adults.
  • The essential feature of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.
  • Typically, symptoms vary depending on context within a given setting. Signs of the disorder may be minimal or absent when the individual is receiving frequent rewards for appropriate behaviour, is under close supervision, is in a novel setting, is engaged in especially interesting activities, has consistent external stimulation (e.g. via electronic screens), or is interacting in one-on-one situations (e.g. the clinician’s office).
  • The [82] studies included in [a 2021] systematic review strongly support increased risk of accidents or unintentional injuries in patients with ADHD in all age groups.

Understanding ADHD in the Aviation Context

ADHD is characterized by patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that interfere with functioning or development. In aviation, maintaining high levels of concentration and focus is critical, making the management of ADHD essential for safety. Transport Canada recognizes the unique challenges posed by ADHD but also provides a clear assessment protocol to ensure that individuals with ADHD can be considered for flying careers under certain conditions.

The Path to a Transport Canada Medical

For those diagnosed with ADHD wishing to pursue a pilot’s license, the path involves several key steps, including neuropsychological testing (NPT) and a Transport Canada Aviation Medical. These assessments are crucial in determining whether an individual can safely perform the duties required of a pilot. The goal is to ensure that the individual does not currently meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, which can often be achieved with proper treatment and strategies to manage symptoms.


Can I become a pilot if I have ADHD?

NO. If you currently meet the diagnostic criteria for having ADHD, you cannot hold an aviation medical. Pilots cannot currently be taking ADHD medication and hold a valid aviation medical. You need a valid medical certificate to fly.

I was diagnosed with ADHD but I am not taking any medicine. Can I be a pilot?

If you were previously diagnosed with ADHD, as a kid for example, but you have not been taking any medicine, you can potentially earn a Transport Canada medical and start flight training. You need to complete a comprehensive medical assessment which states that you do not meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD after being free of ADHD medication for at least 6 months.

I was misdiagnosed as a kid with ADHD and I want to be a pilot, what can I do?

Obtain a comprehensive medical assessment which states that you do not have ADHD and which confirms you have not been on medications for ADHD for at least 6 months. Then go to an aviation medical examiner with this assessment and complete the medical examination.

What is a comprehensive medical assessment for pilots with ADHD?

In addition to the regular Transport Canada medical examination, applicants need to undergo a Comprehensive Medical Assessment which states your history of problems, current medications, psychiatric review of symptoms, past medical history, diagnoses, family history, management plan, prognosis based on current consistent level of function and stability in multiple contexts, and any other items which a clinician would be concerned about.

This is all documented in a report and then submitted to the aviation medical examiner for review. The examiner submits this report to Transport Canada with your medical file for you.

Are there any support resources available for pilots with ADHD?

Yes, there are resources available to support pilots with ADHD, including support groups, organizations specializing in ADHD aviation issues, and mental health professionals who can provide guidance and assistance throughout the pilot licensing journey.

I think I have ADHD, what should I do?

It is your responsibility to ground yourself if you are diagnosed with ADHD. If you suspect you have ADHD, seek support as the effects are multifaceted and affect your social life, love life, physical well-being, etc. It is up to you if you wish to pursue a formal diagnosis.

How dangerous is ADHD in aviation, really?

This topic was discussed informally with an expert psychiatrist who is well versed with ADHD. For someone who has the stereotypical inability to focus type of ADHD which is commonly thought of, yes it is obviously dangerous. However, pilots may present many symptoms of ADHD but can manage them quite well, well enough to not let it affect their ability to fly an airplane.

Let’s assume that aviation medicals didn’t exist for a moment. If a student’s ADHD was debilitating, they would never get through flight training.

I really want to be a pilot but I have ADHD, now what?

Hmm, okay. If your on medication, first ask yourself if you stopped medication for the rest of your life, how would you be as a person? Do you think you have ADHD but don’t take medications? Speak to a therapist, try our online ground school, start flying lessons. If you can’t get through any of it, you need to work on it or accept the inevitable.

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