Whether you have noticed or not, but most pilots are always clean-shaven. If you’ve ever wondered why, there are a few reasons to explain this. If you’re a wannabe pilot but can’t bear the thought of losing your magnificent facial hair, then you must have asked this question a hundred times.
If you are the proud owner of a hipster-style beard that reaches your chest, then it is a bit of bad news if you are looking to become a pilot. Airline pilots are generally not allowed to have beards or any facial hair below the lip. This is mainly due to safety precautions.
However, some airlines do allow pilots to have a beard up to a certain length and some non-US airlines have no rules against facial hair whatsoever. Air Canada is one of these airlines so you may see Santa piloting a plane at some point.
As airlines outside of the US have different rules and regulations, appearance and uniforms can differ dramatically. Generally, US-based airlines do not allow pilots to have any beards but an exception is made with some airlines depending on the length of the facial hair.
Larger airlines such as Southwest and United have strict rules stating that pilots should be clean shaven.
Nonetheless, there are no strict regulations that say that a bearded person can not acquire a pilot’s license. It is important to note that obtaining a commercial pilot’s license has nothing to do with whether a pilot has a beard or not.
For many, piloting is a hobby and these pilots usually own a private pilot license. There are no restrictions on beards and how trimmed they must be kept with these licenses. It is entirely possible to achieve a private pilot license as well as a commercial pilot license with a beard.
However, problems could surface when a bearded pilot starts to work for an airline. If the airline has regulations that restrict a beard, the pilot must shave it off.
In general aviation, there are not as many grooming standards that a commercial pilot has to comply with. While the US aviation authorities may be stricter than other countries, you may get lucky and join an airline that allows a bushy beard.
Why can’t pilots have beards?
Now we have discussed whether pilots can or can’t have beards, we should focus on why some airlines do not allow any facial hair.
The main reason behind the prohibition of beards for commercial pilots is safety. During certain periods of a flight, airline pilots may have to wear supplemental oxygen masks. This is anytime when the pressure is above 12,500 feet or if the pilot is flying solo (this includes when another pilot is in the restroom).
You may be wondering what this air pressure has to do with beards. Well, many argue that a beard can impede an oxygen mask’s fit if a pilot needs to wear one. Facial hair could stop the mask from fitting tightly and could result in a lack of oxygen supply.
This has been debated for many years in the aviation industry and many argue it simply is not true. However, most airlines err on the side of caution and take a very conservative approach to such matters. The safety of passengers and crew is always paramount for every airline so any little risk of thwarting this safety is taken very seriously.
In the rare case of an emergency, pilots have to be able to put an oxygen mask on quickly before doing everything they can do to maintain the safety of their passengers. Without adequate oxygen, this just would not be possible.
Whether these safety regulations are true or not is always up for debate. There have been tests conducted to find out whether beards have an effect on wearing oxygen masks or not.
A 2020 study by Simon Fraser University in Canada tested the effects of having a beard while trying to put on and use an oxygen mask. The study involved three groups of test subjects. One group had no facial hair, one had light facial hair, and the other had longer beards.
Tests were taken to see what the oxygen levels were like for those with varying amounts of facial hair. A further test was also conducted to see if an irritant (to imitate smoke) could get through any gaps between the oxygen mask and the facial hair.
The final result concluded that there was little to no difference between the groups with no facial hair and the ones with longer beards.
However, these results are unlikely to change the stance taken by airlines across the US and the rest of the world. With safety being a primary concern, more research is needed before airlines and the FAA would consider any changes to their regulations regarding beards.