Can You Get a Pilot’s License If You’re Colorblind?

Does a colorblind pilot have a chance to work in aviation?
4 photos for pilot in his suit, another pilot flying with a plane, and two photos for the vision test

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Almost all Pilot’s License in aviation requires a medical certificate. This certificate is considered evidence that a student is suitable for the position of a pilot.

But what if you have color blindness? Is it possible to be a colorblind pilot and work in aviation? What steps do you have to take to be accepted? This is what this article is about.

What is color blindness?

Color blindness is the inability to distinguish between certain colors or to see colors clearly. Those who are color blind see colors in a different way than most people.

Color blindness has different types. The most common type is the one in which the person has difficulty telling the difference between red and green.

The second type is having difficulty distinguishing between blue and yellow. The third type, which is not common, is complete color blindness where the person can’t see colors at all.

Generally, color blindness often runs in families, so most cases of color blindness are inherited, and men are more likely to be affected.

A key symptom of color blindness is the inability to see colors as most people do.

If you are colorblind, you have difficulty distinguishing between colors and their shades, as well as knowing how bright they are.

Currently, modern medicine has determined that most color-blind people are able to distinguish colors to some degree. Thus, the medical community prefers the term color vision deficiency to the term color blindness.

Most people with red-green color deficiency are able to identify colors, although it is not as easy as for people who see colors normally.

Potential difficulties of color vision deficiency

Having color vision deficiency may present some difficulties to the pilot.

A commercial or private pilot may need to handle some lights such as cockpit lights or airport lights, most of which are color-coded to ease identification.

In these circumstances, a degree of color perception is required for employment in aviation.

But as there are different degrees of color vision deficiency, how do flight organizations determine whether a person with color vision deficiency can fly?

Procedure for testing color vision:

A color blindness test measures an individual’s ability to recognize, identify and differentiate between colors.

When you apply for a medical certificate, you will realize that color vision is only one component of this process.

In the first step, the applicant must take a standard color vision test. One of the most famous tests for diagnosing color blindness is the Ishihara color vision test, named after the Japanese doctor who developed it.

Ishihara’s test consists of a 24 board with colored dots of various sizes and colors but containing pictures of letters or numbers, and is formed from small dots of similar colors.

You must specify the exact number that is visible on each plate. By selecting the first 15 boards correctly in a row, you are considered to have passed the test.

However, people with normal color vision should be able to see these numbers or letters.

This test is only the first step in the color vision test. So when you pass it, you can proceed to the next stages.

Even if you do not pass it, you can be given a medical certificate that says that you can fly with some exceptions, like without flying at night. At this point, you can accept the medical certificate or decide to get additional tests.

How to Become a Pilot If You’re Colorblind

You can be a colorblind pilot and still work in aviation. It depends on the severity and what colors can or can’t be recognized.

If a colorblind person has mild color blindness, he can become a pilot if he can demonstrate his ability to identify different colors that relate to his duties and tasks as a pilot. However, for a fully colorblind person, becoming a pilot can be difficult.

The procedure for color vision testing

Up until 2013, colorblind pilots were automatically denied a first class medical certificate. 

Nevertheless, thanks to the advances in color vision testing that the Federal Aviation Administration seeks, it is now possible to accurately determine an individual’s level of colorblindness. 

So, even if you are partially colorblind, you are still eligible to get a medical certificate.

When it comes to tests, the type of test will depend on the type of certification you want.

For instance, for a third-class medical certificate, you will need to take a vision test that requires reading some aeronautical charts, as well as other tests.

As for the first and second class medical certificates, pilots must also pass a flight test known as the medical flight test.

To help you understand the differences between first, second, and third class medical certificates, here are the most important differences:

1- Third class medical certificate:

This certification is required for becoming a private pilot.

Applicants for a third class medical certificate must complete two tests: a signal light test at the airport as well as a practical test where the colors must be correctly identified on aeronautical charts.

The test can be taken at night or during the day. If you are unable to pass it during one of those times, it should be noted on your certificate that you couldn’t pass during those times, during the day or at night.

2- Second class medical certificate:

To become a commercial pilot, you must have this certification.

As for the color test for a colorblind pilot, the rules are the same for first and second class medical certificates.

Applicants for first or second class medical certificates must take the color vision medical flight test (MFT).

This is an actual flight test that requires some actions such as reading and understanding flight instruments correctly, especially those with colored identification marks, colored instrument panel lights, reading weather signs, etc.

3- First class medical certificate:

For those who wish to become airline transport pilots and make flying their main profession, this certification is required.

This is the highest medical certification available to pilots because it ensures that you meet the requirements of this job.

As for the color test, they are required to perform higher tests to ensure obtaining it as we stated in the second-class medical certificate.

How Does Color Blindness Affect Piloting?

After knowing about the test you take for color vision and how each medical certificate has some special requirements, you should now understand that color blindness may slightly affect some procedures during flight, but it does not prevent you from flying permanently as long as it is mild.

No matter if you don’t pass the initial color vision test, there are more flexible tests for you to earn a first, second, or third-class medical certificate as long as your condition allows.

This means that if you fail the color vision test, you can still fly, although with some restrictions such as not being able to fly at night or control the color signal.

Is Flying Colorblind Safe?

Yes, it is safe. As evidence for this, the International Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has stated in its rules that a color vision test (which we mentioned earlier) will determine whether the applicant is suitable for becoming a pilot.

According to AOPA, about 8% of men and 0.5% of women in the United States have problems with color perception.

Whether due to genetics, an injury, or disease, color blindness may present some challenges to pilots.

Accordingly, the Medical Standards state that applicants for all classes of medical certification must demonstrate the ability to perceive those colors necessary to safely perform the duties of a pilot. These requirements are flexible, however, and allow color-blind people to be evaluated.

If a person with color vision deficiency passes the tests presented to him, the organization will consider his color vision acceptable.

However, each time he reapplies for a medical certificate, he will need to take a color vision test, so it is recommended that he take the same test he previously passed.

Final thoughts

In the past few decades, a colorblind pilot had little chance of flying an airplane.

Yet, with advancements in the aviation industry and other fields in general, color vision testing is becoming more accurate and backed by a more medical understanding of the condition.

Therefore, those with a mild color vision deficiency are now able to obtain a commercial pilot license.

So if you are color-blind, you can still join the aviation field and fulfill your dream of becoming a professional pilot!

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