abstract aircraft

All medical standards, by definition, discriminate. Whatever the standard says, someone has to fail them, and if they fail, they will experience discrimination. The discrimination may take the form of exclusion altogether or restriction on the degree of participation.

When a standard has a sound evidence base and is associated with demonstrable risks that impact on ‘safe performance of duties’ then the discrimination that results in exclusion or restriction can be said to be justified, and the standard in question can be said to be ‘TRUE’ or ‘VALID.’

The ‘Cardiovascular Standard’ appears to be one such standard. A pilot who has ischaemic heart disease carries a significant risk of sudden severe incapacitation, or sudden death. The evidence base for this is well established and the standard serves the purpose for which it was created: to reduce the risk of occurrence of catastrophic events that endanger the lives of all passengers and crew. Many such standards exist and they have indisputable validity in terms of their evidence base. It cannot be argued that a pilot who has known heart disease with significant risk attached should have exclusion or restrictions nullified on the basis of him showing that he can fly the aircraft in spite of his heart problem.

We say that the Aviation Colour Perception Standard is a very different proposition. While there is no argument as to the existence of a significant population of individuals with abnormal colour perceptions, the proposition that such individuals can be expected to perform less safely by virtue of their colour vision deficiency has no evidential basis, and remains pure assumption. A valid argument can be made that it is possible to demonstrate that a colour vision deficient individual might demonstrate a totally satisfactory and safe ‘performance of duties’ (and all that that entails). One such demonstration may carry little weight in terms of the evidentiary value and therefore hundreds or even thousands of demonstrations would be even more convincing.

Such is the situation that exists now in Australia. I can’t state the exact numbers, as only the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has access to the statistics but there are undeniably many hundreds of CVD pilots operating in Australia without restriction and a significant population of CVD Pilots fly with ATPL licences for the airlines. They present for check and training in exactly the same way their colour vision normal peers do and they continue to satisfy the requirements. This observation constitutes evidence that at the very least deserves consideration.

There is no doubt that this has come about because Australia is the only country in the world where it has been possible for an independent and expert tribunal to examine the entire body of evidence pertaining to the Aviation Colour Perception Standard. If such a review were to be facilitated in say the UK or the USA, I am confident the outcome would be the same.

So what does that then mean in terms of the discrimination that used to be imposed on Australian pilots, and which continues to be imposed on many thousands around the world? It means this: discrimination against a group or an individual that isn’t supported by a clear, unambiguous evidence base is unjust. It becomes a question of justice. It means the discrimination is invalid and political. It means the discrimination against CVD folk belongs in the same category as religious and racial discrimination. It should make the Aviation Colour Perception Standard a subject of interest to the ‘Human Rights’ bodies around the world.

This has not been an angle relied upon in Australia, but certainly could be a path to follow in other jurisdictions.