In this article we're going to answer a frequently asked question, can you become a pilot if you're. color blind.
The more important question is what level of pilot license are you interested in holding if you are color blind?
Here is the cut and dry statement that the FAA makes regarding colorblindness.
The 14 CFR Part 67 regulations, revised on September 16, 1996, state that a pilot must have “the ability to perceive those colors necessary for the safe performance of airman duties” for all medical certification classes.
Every single Medical exam has an eye test and part of that eye test is a color test with numbers embedded inside of colored circles. You will take this eye test every single visit to the Aviation Medical Examiner (AME)to renew your medical. In order to get your medical certificate you have to be able to pass this color portion of the test. Know before you go! This article is slanted towards helping you figure out options so that you can make an informed career direction decision and that the are no surprises.
There is a distinction right off the bat and a difference in the classes of the medical certificates. If your goal is to become a commercial pilot and fly for the airlines, then this will help you determine what kind of outcome you may have. The outcome is important to understand before you begin the journey.
3 Classes of Medical Certificates
- Third class medical, which is the starting point of student pilots and private pilots.
- Second class medical which is required for most commercial operators of part 135 and 121
- First Class medical, which is required for part 121 operations (airlines)
Third Class Medical Options
If you don't pass the color perception tests, those seeking a third-class medical can ask the FAA for an Operational Color Vision Test (OCVT). An FAA safety inspector will give you a practical test to see if you can differentiate colors on a navigation chart and identify signal lights. The actual third class medical is given by the AME.
First and Second Class Medicals
First or second-class medical applicants will have to undergo the same vision test described above. In addition, they will take a color vision Medical Flight Test (MFT). The vision test also includes distance and near vision testing. This is important to also determine if you need to use glasses while flying.
Pilots must show that they can discern the basic colors used in an airport environment as well as the advanced colors we will show you later in this article
Color Vision and Military Pilots
If you want to fly in the military you must pass a color vision test. The military gives potential pilot candidates a strict vision test. They are less flexible about vision requirements than the FAA due to their internal requirements. Chances are good that if you are color blind or suffer from sort level of color blindness you will not be able to become a military aviator.
A Sport Pilots license only requires you to have a valid drivers license for your state. You do not have to have a medical certificate of any sort. However this license is very limiting and only allows you to fly certain types of aircraft that are in the light category (think ultralights) This is now called LSA or light sport aviation and can be a fun way for you to have some aviation recreation with some limits. You are not allowed to practice any sort of fly for hire type of activity with the LSA license, so in a sense it is not a professional pilot license. However you can fly all you want if you are color blind in this area of aviation.
Student Pilots and Private Pilots
If you are color blind, and you want to pursue aviation from a private pilot aspect, then you can get a medical certificate with one extra step in the equation.
But understanding why the FAA is strict about these rules–and who they let fly and who they do not–are important considerations if you're pursuing a long-term career as a professional pilot. That extra step is in getting a waiver for being color blind. This you only have to do once.
Old color examples, here is where it started
The FAA wants to make sure that pilots can see the obvious colored lights they have set up at the airport. This is important if you fly at night and need to be able to interpret the different colors in regards to taxiways and runways. This was commonly referred to a signal light test or the ability to see light signals that the tower may give in the event you have a radio failure.
There are many other lights that are part of the airport system as well as the ever growing development of lights inside the airplane with the advancement of screen technology colors now are becoming more standard such as weather radars and being able to interpret the different colors for different types of weather scenarios.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, this is not really about whether or not it can be done, it can be done with certain waivers. The question comes down to should you even start your career goal if your aspiration is an advanced commercial pilot job.
The New Normal, How Colors Have Become More Important
Below you will find several examples of modern day jet cockpits and the multi paneled approach they use to display system information. You will notice plays a big part in the design with a focus on attention.
There are five main colors that are used to get or convey information they are similar to the rules of driving an automobile on today’s roads.
Most aircraft today use LCD screens and display multi colored messages on them to give you a quick glance indication of what is happening. This can become very routine when you are looking for a light or message to change from one color to the next.
Red lights are obviously designed to make us say we need to stop and look at this. In this example the doors are not closed and armed and display red. When you are on the ground at the gate, this makes perfect sense. A pilot would also know that when the doors are closed and armed they would turn green.
Red is also used universally for fire warning systems. These lights are almost always accompanied by an aural warning since they are urgent in nature. This is the entry level color blind hurdle you would need to overcome
Amber colored lights or messages are designed to make you "look over here" They are usually accompanied by a chime to get your attention. Think of it as the yellow light on a street light. They are warning you that something has happened that needs your attention or that may escalate into the message turning red. Almost always an amber light has some sort of performance for the pilot to accomplish and fix.
In this picture you will notice that near the bottom the aircraft is displaying 3 out of 4 brakes are hot and need to cool down. When the brakes cool, the temperature indicator will go from amber to green. You have to be able to see that since taking off with hot brakes is not allowed.
Cyan messages and lights are very hard to read if you are colorblind since they are not bright and do not indicate any sort of urgency. These colors are an indication that something is happening that is not normal. In this example the hydraulic pump is not in auto. This is not an emergency but the pump is supposed to be in auto and not in the "on" position.
White lights and messages are an indication of something and like cyan is more of an information status. Any messages that pop up or are used have a role of getting your attention, some are more urgent than others. In this example the anti ice system has detected icing and has opened the valves.
The best way to remember green is the phrase "green is good" Green messages mean something has gone to a undesirable state to a desirable state such as the doors open example above. Green is also used to show the aircraft parameters are in the normal ranges such as engine temperatures, pressurization and fuel.
One of the best pieces of equipment that incorporates all the colors is the weather radar where the colors of the precipitation have similar meaning. You can see in this example where it would be good to clearly understand what the radar is showing you in color format.
Green returns of precipitation are mostly rain and are not of huge concern considering your phase of flight and altitude. Amber returns show that the weather is a bit more serious in this section and is convective in nature. Red returns are typical of the red color, do not go here. They are areas that contain very uncomfortable flying conditions and are potentially hazardous. Not shown is purple, which is usually inside the red. Purple is serious and should be avoided at all cost.
You will notice that we do not give a lot of information about the history of color blindness or vision requirements or even color vision tests. This is more of a overview of what life is like in the color filled cockpit. Todays cockpits have a real need to identify colors and interpret them in their uses in flight. Its good to know how this works instead of trying to make it work through a waiver and perhaps struggling with it as you progress. The first stop is obviously a bit of research about how the operational color vision test works, then a visit to a aviation medical examiner ame.