John Roth: T1D Commercial Airline Pilot
In Episode #15 of the Gluconfidence Podcast, we interview John Roth, one of the first Type 1 Diabetic Commercial Airline Pilots to apply to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for approval to fly Commercial Aircraft in the United States. John has been involved in flying for his entire life, and when a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes ended his flying career, he successfully pushed for change with the FAA and a historic policy change was implemented in late 2019. This is great story of perseverance and improving opportunities for the Diabetes community!
When you’ve spent 20 years of your life training to be a pilot, the shock that ripples through you when you’re relieved of your job can be overwhelming. John Roth was a commercial pilot, age 36, when he was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes.
John had always wanted to be a pilot. His father, upon seeing his passion for flying, encouraged him to follow his dreams and become an airline pilot. John started flying at 16, and when he was 17 had earned his first license.
John learned quickly, and after graduation flew a small 4-seater airplane. As he got better, he flew larger airplanes. At one time, in a bid to have enough flying minutes, he flew cargo aircrafts and was an ARG pilot for a while. He regrets his time as an ARG pilot, but he needed the flying minutes.
John had been flying for ten years when he was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes. Before the diagnosis, he had experienced the classic Type-1 diabetes symptoms of blurry vision and weight loss. He was initially unsure what was wrong after his first visit to the hospital.
When he was then diagnosed, his first concern was how his health condition affected his flying career. At the time, the law was that any pilot with insulin-dependent diabetics was to be dismissed. He was befuddled when he saw this.
He took his time to research Type-1 diabetes and eventually learned what it was and how to manage it.
John was devastated at first, but soon he was back on his feet, searching for ways to give hope to other pilots who had Type-1 diabetes.
John became very careful with his food, preferring whole foods to processed foods. He was also able to keep his physical health at peak levels.
It was an article on CNN in 2019 that shook the foundations of FAA regulations regarding insulin-dependent diabetic pilots.
In the 1990s, pilots with diabetes could fly private planes, but not commercial airplanes.
John believes the advent of CGMs helped to allow pilots with Type-1 diabetes to fly commercial planes.
John and at least nine other pilots have submitted well-detailed documents showing their CGM records over the past 18 months to prove their case that insulin-dependent diabetics can successfully fly commercial airplanes. Also, drawing examples of the success of CGMs with commercial pilots in England and other countries have helped their cause.
John’s advice to people with type-1 diabetes is to take small steps. John says that sometimes the management process can seem overwhelming – the food to eat, insulin regulation, etc. – but with baby steps, the enormity of managing Type-1 diabetes will be demystified.
John would love, moving forward, to have CGMs that read blood glucose, reducing the reading time of CGMs.
John believes that staying positive always is key to successfully managing Type-1 diabetes.