January 1, 2012
By Kathy Dondzila
About 8 percent of men and 0.5 percent of women in the United States have problems with color perception. Whether caused by inheritance, injury, or disease, color blindness is challenging to live with and presents some hurdles for pilots. The medical standards in FAR Part 67 specify that applicants for all classes of medical certification have “the ability to perceive those colors necessary for the safe performance of airman duties.” Every visit to an AME for renewal of an airman medical certificate involves taking a color vision test. Technically known as a pseudoisochromatic color plate test, it’s the one with the pages of different-colored dots.
FAA made some changes to color vision testing in July 2008. If you hold a statement of demonstrated ability (SODA) or a letter of evidence that was issued before July 2008, your color vision waiver is grandfathered, and you will not be required to test according to the new procedures described below.
Here are the testing details.
If you fail the color vision test in the AME’s office, you can still fly, but with a limitation – no night flying or color signal control. Not a problem if you are a day flyer. If you’re not happy with the limitation, though, it is possible to have it removed by taking an alternative color plate test. There are a few of them to choose from, including the Dvorine second edition 15-plate test or one of the Ishihara tests. Call your optometrist or ophthalmologist to see which test is available. These tests take into account the degree of color vision defect and are less sensitive to mild color vision deficiency.
If you pass the alternate test, FAA will consider your color vision acceptable. You will, however, need to take a color vision test each time you reapply for a medical certificate, so try to take the same test that you previously passed each time you reapply. When you see the AME for your FAA exam, bring a letter from the vision specialist that states the type of color vision test and the passing results. The AME may then issue the new certificate without a color vision restriction.
Applicants for a third class medical:
Applicants for first or second class medicals:
Because this new policy is complicated by the need to interact with the local FSDO, AOPA recommends that pilots who need only third class medical certificates try one or more of the alternate color plate tests first. If that fails, do a “trial run” of the signal light test during daylight hours with the air traffic control tower first, preferably with someone who has “normal” color vision, to confirm that you correctly identified the tower light signals. When you know you can pass the test, you can contact the FAA for approval to take the test.
Questions? Give AOPA a call at 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672).
Technical Communications Manager, Kathy Dondzila, joined AOPA in 1990 and is an instrument-rated private pilot.
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