Dr Arthur Pape is a former Vice-President of the Australian Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA).

AOPA offered huge support through the Administrative Appeals Tribunals challenges of the late 1980’s and still supports the Colour Vision Defective Pilots Association today.

The following series of thirteen articles written by Dr Pape were published in the AOPA magazine during the late 1980’s to keep members informed of the progress of the challenge.

There are two observations that need to be stated from the outset in any attempt to rationally consider the role of colour vision in aviation. The first is that the physiology of colour vision is fairly complex and poorly understood by the vast majority of medical examiners, let alone the non-medical public. The second is that there is a great deal of confusion both within the Department of Aviation and outside about the mechanics (visual ergonomics) of, various visual tasks in the aviation environment. To understand the role of colour vision in aviation one has to know a lot about two specialist fields, namely colour vision AND aviation. To date, I humbly suggest, the people charged with the administration of the so called "Colour Vision Standard" for aircrew fulfil neither requirement. 

At the very dawn of aviation, the use of colour was introduced to convey information and orders to airborne and taxiing aircraft. Such directives as "do not land", "cleared for take-off' and "cleared to land" were passed to pilots by the use of coloured lanterns, flags and pyrotechnic flares. These techniques were adopted largely from the maritime services of the time. The use of radio in aviation was undreamed of, so there was no other reliable means of providing pilots with these important operational directives. It followed naturally that a pilot who was unable to interpret these signals could cause chaos in such an environment, so it made sense to exclude such "colour defective" individuals, even from daytime flight.

In this third part of the series I want to outline some of the key points of disagreement with the Department's Aviation Medicine Branch on their persistence in restricting pilots with abnormal colour vision. As backup material I possess a mountain of documentation both from within and without the Department. I should also point out that the officers of the D.O.A. have, on the whole, been courteous and helpful in granting a lot of the documents that I have requested. Courtesy and co-operation, however, do not substitute for reason and a willingness to be objective. I have always believed that it is every doctor's responsibility to seek truth, but I regret that the Aviation Medicine Branch seems to have opted for bureaucratic obstinacy and protection of its own authority.

For those who aren't yet aware, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has handed down the decision that it DOES have jurisdiction to hear the matters that we want to raise about the Department's Colour Perception Standard.  This now leaves the way clear for me to have the "Standard", which for so long has been used to restrict those with abnormal colour vision, examined independently, openly, and publicly.  It places the onus on the Department to come forward with concrete evidence in support of its colour vision policies or to change them, even to abandon them, once and for all.  I will see to it personally that whatever the Department has to say on the subject will be publicised. 

There have been several developments over the last weeks in the Colour Vision debate that I feel are worth reporting to AOPA readers.  Hence, notwithstanding Part Four of this series, here comes Part Five. 

For those who have been following the saga of my appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the decision has been handed down and it is that I will be allowed to fly at night on my private licence (but not on my Commercial) and subject to the following restrictions: 


Last month's AOPA editorial highlighted the difficulties the Department is having in coping with the decision of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, by which I, a severely colour defective pilot, am allowed to fly at night.  The position adopted by the Department with regard to radios is approaching that of a tragic comedy. 

The restrictions suffered by the colour defective pilots of this country have certainly had some publicity in the last five weeks.  The result of my AAT appeal was well reported by ABC National radio news and some of the major capital city newspapers.  I had two radio interviews and all in all, I have had very encouraging support from the public.  Even some Departmental people have expressed support for the campaign to do away with colour vision restrictions.  They have to be rather secret about it though, since the Department can be quite punitive to its own employees who don't follow the part line. 

Earlier I asked "Where to from here?" following my AAT result.  At the time of writing that article the matter of the "second radio" had been referred back to the AAT for clarification.  I am pleased to say that the AAT meant a handheld portable radio and not a fully installed TSO'd VHF transceiver with its own separate BUS (the Department's interpretation).  The AAT took into account the fact that    " ... portable VHF transceivers have become readily available and their use, whether legal or illegal, in situations where the built-in transceiver is inoperable has become common practice".   The Tribunal's words are a victory for good old "common sense". 

There are now two further appeals before the AAT in Melbourne by pilots with defective colour vision, and several more in hot pursuit.  It is symptomatic of the Department's "sacred cow" attitude to the colour perception standard that it is considering ways to have colour vision related disputes taken away from the jurisdiction of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.  It is unlikely that any such a move could succeed, as it would involve the Parliament of Australia, where we have significant moral and political support for the "anti-colour vision campaign". 

Previously, I reported that further appeals had been lodged before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal by pilots wishing to have their colour vision related restriction (on night flying) removed.  It now appears that the next case to proceed will be that of a Jonathan Denison, a young, but experienced, commercial pilot from Bowral, N.S.W.

Jonathan Denison has won his appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal against the restrictions on his commercial licence that were in place because of his defective colour vision. The decision is a landmark victory for all colour defectives. 

It is now well over two years since the historic AAT decision in Denison vs. CAA, allowing colour vision defective pilots to fly at night.  For a few months after the decision, the CAA insisted on a practical test for those individuals diagnosed as "Protans", a test that required the applicant to correctly name the colours of Aldis lights shone from a control tower.  This procedure was dropped when it was realised that it was administratively cumbersome and that nobody was failing it.  The present day situation is that all colour defective pilots are automatically, granted a dispensation against the colour perception standard for licences up to the CPL.