Man stood on weighing scales at a medical exam

Is there a weight limit for airline pilots?

I would like to become a pilot but I currently weigh 300 lbs. Will this be an issue?

Reader question — FBN

This is a question that frequently pops up from aspiring aviators, and revolves around a sensitive subject — weight!

Contrary to the common misconception, there isn’t a universally mandated weight limit for airline pilots. Some military applications specify height requirements, but you’re unlikely to find any job application specifying a pilot’s weight requirement.

However, throughout the journey to becoming a commercial pilot, certain stages factor in weight or physical fitness, which can act as barriers or considerations for specific individuals.

As a result, while we can’t provide aspiring pilots an “official” weight limit, it is possible to put some practical numbers to the question of how heavy is too heavy! Let’s have a look…

3 factors pilots should consider

From years of experience in the commercial aviation industry, I’ve seen arguably 3 main limiting factors to pilots’ weight.

1. Initial Medical Exam: Aim for a BMI under 30 

All airline pilots undergo a yearly medical examination to secure a commercial pilot medical certificate — known as a Class One Medical. However, at the initial class one application, physical health requirements are more stringent, and aeromedical doctors will typically examine overweight applicants in more detail for future health issues.

This is because applicants will not only need to pass this initial class one exam, but be able to maintain it annually, for the remainder of their career. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other global aviation bodies might not have a specific weight cut-off, but they will evaluate an individual’s Body Mass Index (BMI) and overall health. Obesity (defined as BMI >30), or related medical conditions stemming from it, can be flagged if they might hinder a pilot’s in-flight duties.

Anecdotally, I have heard instances where aspiring pilots were told to return for additional retesting or medical consultations after weight management programs, due to weight-related concerns, before they were allowed an initial class one medical. As an example, in the UK, the CAA specifies additional testing requirements for applicants with a BMI > 35. 

2. Basic Flying Training: Trainees above >230lbs can encounter problems

In the foundational phase of a pilot’s training, the type of aircraft used can sometimes pose weight challenges that do have a strict weight limit.

Small basic training aircraft such as the Cessna 152 have a maximum weight limit of 350 lbs for both the instructor and trainee. So any pilots heavier than 240lbs will really struggle to find instructors light enough to fly alongside.

Small Cessna training aircraft with strict pilot weight limits

What happens if I’m above that weight? It doesn’t mean automatic disqualification for being a pilot, but students might face limitations in training with that type of aircraft. This can have knock on effects, like the type of flight school you can apply to, and the cost of training.

For instance, a trainee colleague of mine out in Arizona, had to wait for a larger C182 training aircraft to be available — and pay the higher fees — purely because of his weight. The combined weight of him, the school’s lightest instructor, and fuel, would have exceeded the limits of the standard C152 training aircraft we were all enrolled on.

Commercial Flying: Keeping the Drs happy!

Arguably the least weight restrictive part, commercial airlines have no upper limits for pilots specified in any manual that I know of! So, for pilots that have passed an initial medical and their flying training, there are no hard and fast numbers on weight.

However, airlines based in many parts of the world — with lesser employment regulations than our European or American readers might expect — occasionally place weight limits on applicants.

It is also not uncommon for some airlines to have in house medical evaluations for pilots and cabin crew — with strict limits on many conditions, including weight — that may exclude applicants even if they currently hold a class one medical.

So, while overweight commercial pilots aren’t usually barred from flying, in some instances it can limit their options.

In addition, one other problem I have seen heavily overweight pilots experience, is maintaining a class one medical. I have had colleagues who have temporarily lost their medicals through conditions ranging from sleep apnoea, to high blood pressure.

Aeromedical doctor prescribing medication during pilot medical

This is not uncommon, and many pilots will lose their medicals at some stage until they have recovered. However, in cases where weight was deemed a significant factor, they have been mandated to lose the weight (often to within the normal BMI range of 18.5 — 25) alongside fixing their condition, before their medical can be revalidated.


There might not be an explicit weight restriction for airline pilots at most airlines, but weight and health considerations play a notable role in the pilot’s career. All commercial pilots have to pass yearly medical checks, which include weight and BMI measurements.

There is additional focus on aspiring pilots’ weight during their initial medical evaluation. Anecdotally, some aeromedical doctors have set limits on BMIs over 30, citing the need to maintain a class one medical throughout a career, and weight typically increasing with age.

Finally, during basic flying training, pilots above 240 lbs or so can begin to incur additional issues. This is down to the training aircraft popular with many flight schools (such as the PA28 or Cessna 152) having restrictive mass and balance limits.

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