Can you become a pilot if you are color blind? What You Need to Know.

by | Learn to Fly, Medical

human eye is able to see in colorHave you wondered if you can become a pilot if you are color blind? Have you heard that your dream of becoming a pilot is unattainable because you struggle to distinguish colors? Well, we’re here to shatter that myth and shine a light on the path to achieving your aviation goals. While it’s important for pilots to be able to distinguish colors, remember that the skill set required for flying goes involves far more than color recognition. Color blindness affects approximately 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women worldwide, making it a prevalent condition among the general population. So, how do different types of color blindness impact one’s ability to discern colors while navigating the skies, and what can be done to overcome this obstacle? Buckle up, as we embark on a journey to explore the world of color blind pilots and provide you with invaluable tips and resources that will help you soar above this challenge and turn your dreams into reality.

Why is being able to see color important to pilots?

For pilots, the ability to see color is crucial to their job. From distinguishing runway lights and taxiway lights to determining the correct approach path using VASI/PAPI lights, color perception is essential in many aspects of a pilot’s work. The color of airport beacons identifies whether their destination is an airport or military airfield from afar. And on a hazy night, the faint lights of a distant beacon may not be hard to discern to those with color vision deficiency. While sectional charts are an essential aspect of flying, knowing which colors represent airports, restricted airspace, and navigational aids can be the difference between a successful flight and finding yourself being escorted by jet fighters. For this reason color perception is vital. The FAA is focused on safety, and wants to make sure pilots with color deficiency don’t endanger their crews, passengers, and themselves.

What are the FAA rules regarding color blindness?

According to AOPA, about 0.5% (1 in 200) women and 8% (1 in 12) men suffer from some form of color deficiency. Most color perception issues arise from distinguishing the difference between red and green. (Did you know that the green light in most traffic signals are actually blue for this reason?) The FAA requires all pilots to pass a color vision test as part of their medical certification process. This test, called the Ishihara test, consists of a printed circle formed from different sized dots. A pattern making a letter or number would be “hidden” in the circle, visible only to those who have no difficulty distinguishing between the dots’ colors.

In the past, failure to pass the test meant that the pilot would be limited to daytime flights. People looking to pursue a career as a pilot were out of luck since the necessary first and second class medicals were out of reach. But now there are more ways to become a pilot if you are color blind.

While failure to pass the Ishihara test used to be disqualifying, since 2009 there have alternative methods for obtaining a medical certificate, such as proving proficiency in reading light gun signals and other aviation operations. While color blindness can be a barrier for some, the FAA aims to ensure that all pilots with this condition can still safely operate a plane.

Research color vision testing options to determine if you can become a pilot despite colorblindness

If you think you may be color deficient, consult with an ophthalmologist and your AME before you schedule your actual medical exam.

Alternative color vision tests that can be administered by a vision specialist include the Dvorine second edition 15-plate test and the Farnsworth Lantern Test. After you have passed the test, take the paperwork to your AME and you will be issued a medical certificate. Color vision tests accepted by the FAA include:

  • American Optical Company (AOC)
  • AOC-HRR
  • Dvorine
  • Farnsworth Lantern
  • Ishihara
  • Keystone Orthoscope
  • Keystone Telebinocular
  • OPTEC 900
  • OPTEC 2000
  • Richmond, 15-Plate
  • Richmond-HRR
  • Titmus i400

Can you fly if you fail the color test?

If you fail the color perception tests, you can still ask the FAA for an Operational Color Vision Test (OCVT). An FAA safety inspector will give you a practical test to see if you can identify light gun signals from the control tower and differentiate the colors on a sectional chart. If you pass the practical test, you will be issued a third class medical certificate with a statement of demonstrated ability (SODA).

Can you fly professionally if you fail the color test?

If you are pursuing a career in aviation, you will need to complete the OCVT described above as well as a Medical Flight Test (MFT). The medical flight test will determine your ability to read and interpret instruments and displays, including warning lights as well as identifying lights on other aircraft, airport lighting, and recognizing terrain and emergency landing fields. Passing the OCVT and MFT will result in a letter of evidence from the FAA and a medical certificate. These tests only need to be performed once.

Conclusion

Becoming a pilot if you are color blind is definitely possible, but it requires extra effort and dedication. Passing the FAA-mandated tests can be challenging, and stressful. Once these tests have been passed, however, pilots will be issued with a medical demonstrating their ability to recognize colors accurately and can pursue a successful career in aviation.

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