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What is aviation and space medicine?
Aviation and space medicine is the UK’s newest medical specialty, recognised by the General Medical Council in 2016.1 However, aviation medicine has existed for 100 years, since the Wright brothers first demonstrated that it was possible for humans to fly and, importantly, to control aircraft (figure 1). Space medicine is its more recent cousin, and now forms part of our mainstream work, as space tourism looks set to become a reality in the next couple of years.2
The role of the UK Civil Aviation Authority
The UK Civil Aviation Authority, based at Gatwick Airport, London, is the overall regulator of UK civil aviation. Our medical department comprises only 3% of our staff, and includes a team of ten doctors. Several specialist consultant advisors help with medical reports, and some of these hold clinics in our building at Gatwick. The Civil Aviation Authority (figure 2) exists to protect consumers; for example, through the Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing certificate (figure 3), which ensures that tourists can return home if their travel company ceases trading while on a package holiday.
Regulation of UK civil aviation
Unusually for a regulator, we are funded by the industry we serve, rather than by the government through taxation. Thus, the practice of aviation medicine, along with our other activities, has to be cost-conscious and efficient, as our stakeholders expect us to justify how we spend our money. We are entirely independent of the UK National Health Service (NHS), although we do rely heavily on reports supplied to us from both NHS and private practitioners via our aviation licence holders, which permit us to undertake meaningful medical assessments of aircrew.
The core of our work is assessing whether pilots are fit to …
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