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Hearing Loss Wrecked My Career!

These are the most devastating words an Airline Pilot will ever hear! “I’m sorry, your hearing is well below our standards, and we cannot offer you a position with the airline! Your hearing loss is so significant I suggest that you avoid any noisy environments in the future and stay away from airports. This was so unexpected that I was utterly at a loss for words.

This came as quite a shock since I was a very experienced pilot with thousands of hours of flight experience and ready to move up to the big jets. I had recently immigrated to Canada to join a major airline and had passed all the other tests, physiological, flight test, general health, and eyesight, only to fail the final test – hearing. The doctor offered to give me a second test in one week to see if it would make a difference, as I may be suffering an ear infection or recently recovered from the flu, which may have affected my hearing. I readily agreed only to find the same results confirmed at the second test. This destroyed my aviation career!

A background of progressively noisy aircraft while building hours necessary to be eligible for a career in the airline industry was my downfall. I started flying in South America. In an unusual scenario, bush flying in single-engine aircraft (Cessna 180, U-206) was not particularly noisy except after many hours. It certainly had a cumulative effect on the eardrums.

The real problem occurred when I had sufficient flight hours to join the local airline, which had a mixed fleet of airplanes, including 4 – Douglas DC-3 aircraft, the backbone of the airline fleet. Since I already had over a thousand flight hours, I was promoted to the senior first officer position within a short period.

This wonderful aviation career was incredibly exciting and allowed me to pursue my love of all aspects of flying, which started in my youth building and flying model aircraft, both engine-powered and gliders. In other words, aviation was my lifelong dream from when I was eight years old. My mother said that was all I ever talked about becoming – an airline captain.

The airline issued us with headphones that were not very effective and frequently had to be replaced due to the part worn over the ears and filled with a gel that hardened over time and became virtually useless within a few months.

Even more worrisome, was the problem inherent with the old venerable DC-3. These aircraft, many of which were almost forty years old and while sturdy and reliable, were also very noisy.

The large and noisy engines were close to the cockpit, with the massive propellers only 18 inches away from the side of the aircraft. This made for an incredibly noisy environment and very hazardous to my hearing.

Unknown to me at the time, this constant engine/propeller noise over thousands of flight hours played a significant role in damaging my hearing. I had no idea how profoundly this would affect my future!

With the words of the aviation doctor ringing in my ears, I now had to seek another career away from noisy environments. I was forced to change my focus and look for something I could qualify for and still be an exciting challenge. I attempted to leave the aviation industry on a few occasions, only to realize that my love for the industry overwhelmed the thought that I would lose all my hearing due to extremely noisy airports and aircraft.

For almost two decades, I managed to avoid noisy environments but still keep aviation as my focus. Aviation Training eventually became my goal, and even though not flight operational, it gave me a sense of accomplishment while still retaining ties to the industry.