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Will Color Blindness Prevent You From Becoming a Pilot?

By Blue Line Aviation on Mar 3, 2023 5:15:00 AM

As an aspiring pilot, you know that there are many factors which can prevent you from taking to the skies; however, did you know one of them might be color blindness? 

As pilots, we rely heavily on sight in order to make sure our aircraft is running smoothly and safely. Knowing whether or not your color vision will impact your ability to become a pilot is paramount for anyone looking to embark on this exciting career path. 

In this blog post, we'll take a look at how color blindness affects being a pilot and how it impacts your chances of success as one.

What is color blindness?

Color blindness is a condition that affects the way we process colors and can make differentiating between them more difficult.

It is an inherited genetic condition, meaning it often runs in families, but there are some medical conditions that may also cause color vision impairment.

While there is no cure, special glasses and contact lenses can help the affected individual to discern colors once again.

With these specialized lenses, people who have color blindness may be able to enjoy the same level of color recognition that those who have otherwise normal eyesight.

So while it's not a cure, it's certainly a way to help bridge the gap and make things easier for individuals with this condition. Unfortunately, the FAA does not allow pilots to wear color-correcting sunglasses or lenses. 

How The FAA Perceives Color Blindness

The FAA aims to ensure that pilots can easily distinguish between different colored lights when flying, such as white, green, red, yellow, and blue lights, in order to identify the correct runways and taxiways. 

This is particularly important for night approaches, when lights may be faint and hard to differentiate. It is also important for pilots to be able to interpret approach lights and ILS lights for instrument approaches.

Should a pilot mistakenly perceive the navigation lights while conducting an approach in darkness, they risk putting their crew and passengers at peril, as well as jeopardizing the safety of those on land.

Following a 2002 accident involving a FedEx 727, regulations regarding color blindness received an intensive review.

The first officer, who had difficulty seeing colors, was navigating a night approach to Tallahassee Regional Airport when he descended below the glide path on a visual approach.

The aircraft struck trees on the short final approach and crashed short of runway 9. The NTSB report says "Contributing to the accident was a combination of the captain's and first officer's fatigue, the captain's and first officer's failure to adhere to company flight procedures, the captain's and flight engineer's failure to monitor the approach, and the first officer's color vision deficiency."

What are the FAA standards for color perception?

The FAA says that applicants for medical certification must be able to see the colors they need to perform airman duties safely.  Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs) check color vision by using special color plates.  "If you can’t pass the initial color vision test but otherwise meet medical standards, we may issue you a medical certificate with the limit “NOT VALID FOR NIGHT FLIGHT OR BY COLOR SIGNAL CONTROL.”

How to learn if you have color vision deficiency

Oftentimes, student pilots suffering from color vision deficiency don't realize they have it as its effects are not prevalent in their everyday lives. Consequently, many people come to this realization during their initial examination with an aviation medical examiner.

In order to learn if you have color vision deficiency, it is necessary to visit an eye doctor and get tested. 

Many optometrists are able to evaluate your color vision using specialized tests such as the Ishihara pseudoisochromatic plates test or a Farnsworth-Munsell 100 hue test.

The best course of action is to get tested as early as possible and make sure that you meet the FAA's color vision standards for medical certification.

Blue Line Aviation, established in 2012, is one of only a few flight schools in the world to provide quality flight training programs at an accelerated pace. In as few as five and a half months, students can go from no experience to fully confident and certified pilots, fully prepared for a career in aviation. Schedule a tour of our new state-of-the-art facility (located at 3149B Swift Creek Road, Smithfield, North Carolina) and let your new career take flight. For more inquiries and additional information, please visit our website, find us on social media, or contact Ashley Tucker, our Vice President of Sales and Marketing, at (919) 578-3713 ext. 305.