The career advisor
Q: I am in high school and I am looking into aviation colleges and flight schools, but I do not have 20/20 vision and wear glasses. Am I wasting my time trying to become a pilot?--Anthony from New York
A: Anthony, you are fortunate to be living in an era where the FAA vision standards have been relaxed. Back in the 1960s, many who aspired to fly for the major airlines or the military were thwarted by the strict 20/20 uncorrected standard for a first class medical.
Dr. Quay Snyder is a former aviation medical examiner who helps the Air Line Pilots Association and its members with medical issues; he also shares his expertise online.
The Web site offers a lot of information, but it will charge you fees for consultations and other services on the Web site. Keep in mind that as an AOPA member, you have access to comparable service for free. "We all talk to the same people at the FAA's Aerospace Medical Certification Division in Oklahoma City," noted Gary Crump, director of medical certification for AOPA.
Snyder said: "Federal aviation regulations require that a pilot's distant vision be 20/20 or better, with or without correction, in each eye separately to hold a first or second class medical certificate. The standard for near visual acuity (16 inches) is 20/40 in each eye separately. Pilots aged 50 and older also have an intermediate visual standard measured at 32 inches of 20/40 or better in each eye separately. Third class medical certificates require 20/40 or better for near and distant vision. There is no intermediate vision standard for third class certification.
"Nearsighted (myopic) individuals, those who have blurring when viewing distant objects, are required to wear corrective lenses (glasses or contact lenses) at all times during aviation duties. These lenses must correct distant vision to 20/20 in each eye.
"Farsighted (hyperopic) individuals or presbyopic individuals (those who require reading glasses as they age), are required to have corrective lenses available during aviation duties. These lenses are usually bifocals, progressive lenses, or the half-cut reading lenses.
"There are many cases involving loss of vision in one eye. Unilateral vision or visual field defects are waiverable for pilots, but typically not for controllers. Over 200 airmen with first class medical certificates and over 2,000 airmen overall hold a statement of demonstrated ability (SODA) for effective vision in only one eye.
"Of special concern to many pilots is color blindness. Pilots who cannot pass the aviation medical examiner's testing for color vision may take an alternate color vision test listed by the FAA. Those airmen who cannot pass an alternate color vision test have the option of taking a medical flight test using a signal light gun from the control tower. If the colors are correctly identified, the airman may be issued a SODA for color vision and no restrictions are placed on the airman's medical certificate. Failing the medical flight test excludes the airman from taking an alternate color vision test later. Therefore, airmen should attempt to pass any of the alternate color vision tests before requesting a medical flight test for color vision. Failing the medical flight test or the color vision testing by the AME will result in a limitation being placed on the airman's medical certificate of 'Not valid for night flying or by color signal control.'
There's much more at both Snyder's Web site and AOPA Online, as well as information on refractive corrective surgery, including LASIK.
Send us your career question and we'll answer the best ones here. Sorry, but we are not able to provide individual responses. Wayne Phillips is a Boeing 737 instructor and safety consultant who operates the Airline Training Orientation Program in association with Continental Airlines. He is a speaker for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.