Real Answers from Real Pilots

Color Vision Deficiency

My name is Justin Morrison, I am a 24 year old student at a 141 program looking to start ATP.

So I always dreamed of becoming a commercial pilot. I tried to go to flight school straight out of high school and I couldn’t afford it. Well 5 years later I decided I would try to pursue this again. I went for a medical and found out I couldn’t read the color plate test. So I had night restriction put on my certificate. This was deeply discouraging. A year later after many hours of researching what I could do, I found out that the FAA accepts alternative forms of testing for color vision. Needless to say I passed one of the alternative forms and now have an unrestricted first class medical.

However the test I passed is fairly old and very hard to find. I have not given up on my dream to be a commercial pilot, after spending a year at 141 program I am now preparing for my private check ride and would like to attend ATP after the Holidays. I know from my experience that my color vision deficiency does not effect my performance as a pilot.

Im just worried about the testing since it is required at each medical renewal.

Anyone know someone thats experienced this?

Or give insight on medical exams and examiners?

Hello Justin,

I don’t know anyone but what I can tell you is the AME is controlling and if you were able to get a First Class before I don’t see why you couldn’t again? If it were me I’d just keep going back to the same AME. You say the test you took was “old and hard to find”? Well if this is important to you I’d find it! As long as it’s still acceptable again I don’t see why you’d have an issue and btw you’re 24 so it obviously wasn’t that long ago.

Adam

Do most airline pilots develop a relationship with one specific AME?

Justin,

It seems like a lot of pilots do develop a relationship with a particular AME. I have not as the rules are the rules and any AME should apply them exactly the same way. I have seen several different docs over the course of my career and never had an issue with any of them.

Chris

The FAA offers a practical exam that I can take, I’m confident I would do well at it. However if you make 1 mistake they will put a permanent restriction on license. So I think that route is a last resort.

Justin,

Chris is young and healthy but I think you’ll find MOST pilots do develop relationships with their AMEs (especially as they get old and fat). Yes the rules are the rules but as with everything there is interpretation and you will find some AMEs are looking to fail a pilot while others are not. One of the things you’ll find when you get to an airline in a new base you’ll here guys asking “hey do you have a good guy? My meds up…”.

Adam

Adam,

I could see that. I have personally found a guy who knows and understands color vision. However he is in his 70’s and im sure he will retire soon. I have also dealt with AME’s who didn’t even know you can make errors on the plate test and still pass. So while AME’s are capable of doing the same thing, not all AME’s understand the fine details of things either. That is why I went to an Eye University to get an evaluation before seeing another AME.

EXACTLY! Like I said I’d stick with this guy until he passes the baton. Also as you progress you’ll see there are many good AMEs but not all are.

Adam

Justin,

Just to add to the point I was just having this convo with a friend of mine who’s husband (they’re both pilots) has a similar situation to yours. He found a great AME who apparently is an “expert” in this area while they were living in Ohio. They’ve long since moved but he flies across the country to still get his medicals done with this Dr to ensure he doesn’t have any issues. This is your career and it is a big deal.

Adam

I have heard of pilots doing that as well. You have to do what you have to do. It’s not like were not safe to fly, its the fact that we might not let a particular AME fail you and end your lively hood over something they may not understand completely.

I have had 3 medicals, first AME didnt even administer a color vision test, 2nd only had one testing device and the FAA will accept many other tests and the AME wasn’t even aware of the other test. 3rd AME is my most recent one who understands color vision, knows which test are allowed and not allowed. He let me bring in my evaluation from the Eye Institute and made a decision based of these results and his test. So I will continue to find an AME that I can trust and one who deals in specific issues like in my case.

Most people think that its crazy. Like were “cheating” or something for hand picking AME’s. I know my condition doesn’t hinder my performance or my ability to be a safe pilot. I can see colors just fine, however a book that was designed in 1917 gets to decide whether or not I can be a commercial pilot is not reasonable in my opinion. However the book only cost $200 and is the easiest test to administer. So thats why most AME’s only have that test. Some of the other test can cost up to $6,000. So most AME’s dont have these testing devices.

Did you ever take the FAA light gun test? I have heard that can be very hard.

I have not, in order to get a first class medical through FAA for color vision restriction removal. You must first complete the following.

Be tested on colors on VFR sectional charts and possibly IFR enroute charts.
Then be test on the light gun signals, six times at 1000ft and six more times at 1500ft. If you miss even one. YOU FAIL.
If you fail, the FAA will permanently put a restriction on your medical. You can say goodbye to flying as a career.

If you pass that portion, you will be granted a Letter of Evidence for third class.

Now for first class you must passed that portion and then take a MFT, or Medical Flight Test. This test is done with an FAA examiner and they will quiz you on colors of airport signs, lights and instruments in the aircraft. Also colors of buildings, terrain, and obstacles. Again this is a one time pass or fail test.

I dont know about you, but im skeptical to put everything on the line with a government official.

Justin,

Just so we’re clear, not sure I’d go with the “I know I’m OK” defense but again if you find a good AME who’s knowledgeable in your situation I’d stick with him.

Adam

Justin;
I’m a 17year rotor-wing pilot in the army with color vision issues . As long as you are “color safe” you can get your class 1. The Air Force is the only service that demands normal color vision as far as I know. If you have a red green deficiency and have trouble passing all 16 plates of the Ishihara, then they can use the Farnsworth or D-15 Color Arrangement Test to determine the degree of your deficiency. With the first one you will identify white, red, or green lights in a dark room and the later will require you to line a series of small pucks in order of hue. From what I have read, color vision, unlike your visual acuity, does not deteriorate with age. So as you have passed your class1, you should not have trouble in the future.

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