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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.”
In 2002, a FedEx Boeing 727 crashed into trees on approach to Tallahassee, Fla., resulting in the loss of the aircraft and serious injuries to the three crewmembers. The NTSB investigation determined that the first officer’s color vision deficiency was one of several causal factors. As an outcome of that investigation and a subsequent safety recommendation, the FAA has modified its procedures for removing the operational restrictions for color vision deficiency. The new procedures vary depending upon the class of medical applied for or held.
If you fail the pseudoisochromatic color plate test at the time of your FAA physical exam, the aviation medical examiner (AME) may issue your medical certificate with the limitation “Not valid for night flying or color signal control.” To have the restriction removed, you may choose to take one of the FAA-approved alternative pseudoisochromatic color plate tests. These tests take into account the degree of color vision defect and are less sensitive to mild color vision deficiency. The Dvorine 2nd edition 15-plate test is one that you might consider taking. Your local eye care specialist, either an optometrist or ophthalmologist, may have available one or more of the allowed tests.
If you successfully complete the alternate test, you will be considered as having acceptable color vision for the FAA. You will need to take a color vision test each time you reapply for a medical certificate. Try to take the same test that you previously passed each time you reapply. If you need to seek an outside specialist to take such a test, make sure you obtain a letter from that individual that mentions the type of color vision test and the passing results. Take this to your AME at the time of your FAA exam. The AME may then issue the new certificate without the color vision restriction.
If you cannot pass one of the alternate tests, you have another option that requires taking an operational color vision test with an FAA aviation safety inspector through the local flight standards district office (FSDO). The information describing the tests is found in FAA Order 8900.1, FSIMS, Volume 5, Chapter 8, Sections 5-1523.F, 5-1526.E.6, and 5-1527 F.
For third class medicals: If you cannot successfully complete an alternative color plate test, you will be required to pass an operational color vision test (OCVT). This test has two components:
(a) A signal light test administered at an airport air traffic control tower; and
(b) A practical test in which you must read and correctly identify colors on aeronautical charts.
Upon successful completion of both elements of the OCVT, the aviation safety inspector will issue a letter of evidence and a medical certificate with the limitation “3rd Class Letter of Evidence.”
If you fail the signal light test portion of the OCVT during daylight hours, you will be able to retake the test at night. If you pass the nighttime test, your medical restriction will read, “Not valid for flights requiring color signal control during daylight hours.” If you cannot pass the OCVT during day or night hours, the restriction will read, “Not valid for night flying or by color signal control.”
Important note: If you fail the daytime signal light test, you will not be eligible for either first or second class medical certification, may not be issued a letter of evidence, and may not have the limitation modified or removed.
For first or second class medicals:
(a) Successful completion of an operational color vision test (OCVT) described above; and
(b) A color vision medical flight test (MFT). This is an actual flight test and requires the following:
(1) You must read and correctly interpret in a timely manner aviation instruments or displays, particularly those with colored limitation marks, and colored instrument panel lights, especially marker beacon lights, warning or caution lights, weather displays, etc.
(2) You must recognize terrain and obstructions in a timely manner; select several emergency landing fields, preferably under marginal conditions, and describe the surface (for example, sod, stubble, plowed field, presence of terrain roll or pitch, if any), and also describe how the conclusions were determined, and identify obstructions such as ditches, fences, terraces, low spots, rocks, stumps, and, in particular, any gray, tan, or brown objects in green fields.
(3) You must visually identify in a timely manner the location, color, and significance of aeronautical lights. To minimize the effect of memorizing the color of a light associated with a particular light system, the aviation safety inspector should make every effort to not use the light system name during the flight, but rather to ask you to identify a light color and the significance of as many of the following lights as possible:
(a). Colored lights of other aircraft in the vicinity; (b). Runway approach lights, including both the approach light system (ALS) and visual glideslope indicators; (c). Runway edge light system; (d). Runway end identifier lights; (e). In-runway lighting (runway centerline [CL] lights, touchdown zone [TDZ] lights, taxiway lead-off lights, and land and hold short lights); (f). Airport boundary lights; (g).Taxiway lights (edge lights, CL lights, clearance bar lights, runway guard lights, and stop bar lights; (h).Red warning lights on television towers, high buildings, stacks, etc.; (i). Airport beacon lights.
If you pass the operational color vision test (OCVT) and the color vision medical flight test, the inspector will issue a letter of evidence that’s valid for all classes and a medical certificate with no limitation or comment regarding color vision.
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.
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 procedure.
Helps you find the contact information for submitting your medical records.
Updated October 27, 2009
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