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Colour Blind Pilots will not be Grounded

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From ABC News




Australia's flight regulator has rejected suggestions that it is planning to ground pilots with colour vision deficiency, commonly referred to as colour blindness.


The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) wrote to about 500 aviation licence holders and 900 employers of pilots on June 5 advising that the authority would be reviewing new research into colour vision deficiency.


In the letter CASA's industry permissions manager Peter Fereday encouraged operators to "consider whether it is safe to allow those pilots to continue to exercise flight crew privileges" under current regulations, and whether safety adjustments were needed "pending CASA's further determination of the matter".


Today, CASA spokesman Peter Gibson said the changes would be years in the making.


"There's certainly nothing for any Australian pilot who has colour vision issues to be concerned about," Mr Gibson said.


"We're not grounding any pilots, we're not putting any further restrictions on any pilots, we're simply saying there is some new information out there which we're considering."


Colour vision deficiency pilots have been able to fly in Australia for more than two decades.


Mr Gibson said any changes to regulation in Australia would be subject to extensive consultation.


"If there is any change to the way that colour vision issues are approached in Australia, there'll be full consultation with pilots and the aviation industry, they'll get a chance to put their views forward, and that will take place over many months, possibly even into years," he said.


But Dr Arthur Pape, an aviation medical examiner, who is also a pilot with colour vision deficiency, said he was concerned by the review's ramifications for pilots.


"We've had reassurances from CASA before and these recent letters they've sent out... do not indicate that we have nothing to worry about," Dr Pape said.


"They are very aggressive and they are not based in evidence.


"[i'm not concerned] necessarily that pilots could be grounded, but certainly their careers could be negatively impacted and their jobs become untenable."


About 400 colour blind pilots in Australia


The new research, conducted by New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority principal medical officer Dougal B. Watson, looked at how 78 countries assess colour vision deficient pilots.


Photo: The Ishihara test is a colour perception test developed by Dr Shinobu Ishihara in 1917.


The study found that while the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) required that pilots have "the ability to perceive readily those colours... necessary for the safe performance of duties", there was great variation across the aviation world as to how standards were applied.


Mr Watson found the inconsistency could encourage "'aero medical tourism" where prospective pilots sought to sit their medical assessments in countries most likely to allow them to fly.


In Australia, Dr Pape won a landmark cases at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia in 1987 and 1989, when he challenged Department of Aviation restrictions on him flying at night.


"Those tribunal hearings constituted the most comprehensive impartial review of the aviation colour perception standard ever conducted anywhere in the world," he said.


"Since 1989 we've had a significant number, perhaps hundreds of commercial pilots who have had careers with senior airlines and regional airlines, and their performance has been no less safe than pilots with normal colour vision."


According to CASA, out of 36,000 Australian pilots, about 400 have colour vision deficiency and of those, 140 flew commercial operations.


"In general the approach we take in Australia is to try to let as many people be pilots as possible, taking into account medical conditions and any effect they may have on safety," Mr Gibson said.


"We certainly put safety first, but we don't try to restrict people unless it's absolutely necessary and that's the approach we're taking to colour vision issues."


According to the authority's website, Australia was more flexible than other countries to colour deficiency disorder.


"Australia is more flexible in its approach than other countries in allowing applicants to sit multiple sequential tests for CVD where a fail is recorded and a medical certificate can be issued if at any stage any of the three-level tests are passed. Most overseas regulators do not allow this level of flexibility."


Applicants who do not pass the Ishihara test could still be offered a certificate "restricted to day Visual Flight Rules only".



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Thanks for the link. I'm hoping to follow a career as a commercial pilot, but I have a very mild colour vision deficiency. My optometrist said that it was so minor that I shouldn't have a problem, but I'm not so sure. I have trouble with a few of the Ishihara plates. I'd hate for this to be what decides my future. The optometrist suggested that I go for a lantern test so I'll consider going for that before I make too many decisions. I'm not sure how my particular colour deficiency could affect my safety as a pilot...



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