WHERE TO FROM HERE?
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 Tribunal stated that one of the conditions to be imposed on my night flying was that radio communications should be available to me on two independent, separately powered transceivers. This condition is designed to remove any risk that might arise from my not being able to interpret the coloured control tower signal lights, which are used only in the event of a loss of radio communication. The second radio, I had intended, would comprise a hand-held portable VHF transceiver such as the "STS" advertised in AOPA from time to time. But no, the Department wants me to install a TSO'd IFR radio, powered by an independent electrical bus-bar, with separate wiring back to a SINGLE battery. Such a proposition is patently absurd. What would happen if the battery failed?
It turns out that the STS is not approved by the Department, despite the fact that the same radio has been approved in the U.K., the United States and Canada. It provides both Comm and Nav facilities, both of which might be extremely useful in the event of anyone being unlucky enough to have a total electrical failure, especially if he is in cloud. The unit is IDEAL as a backup unit for any pilot and is relatively inexpensive. The Department is being totally irrational on this point. This is brought home even more vividly when one realises that the Department itself uses these very same radios (or similar units); despite their non-approval, by the hundreds, at such things as temporary control zones and as backup units in control towers. They are used extensively by the Department's own ground staff in all conceivable circumstances, even though they are not officially approved.
In any event, by the time this article goes to press I will have finished my night training and will be flying solo around the night skies. By the way, that night training is not required under the terms of the AAT decision, but I see it as highly desirable for my own safety and I would be foolhardy to proceed without such training. That brings me to the next point. It is not widely appreciated that colour defective pilots are forbidden to ever do any night training, even under supervision. So a colour defective pilot going for his commercial licence or an instrument rating cannot do the prerequisite night training that is laid down in the syllabus. I have asked the Department to consider this one point as a matter of urgency. The denial of such training is totally inexcusable. It is positively dangerous to let such a situation continue.
In the long history of the colour perception standard, the Department has refused repeatedly to accept any evidence, from any source, as to the, practical abilities of colour defectives in the real aviation night time environment, on the grounds that any exposure of colour defectives to the night environment is so dangerous as to be unthinkable. Instead, the Department has persisted in relying on theoretical propaganda supplied by people who know almost nothing about aviation. It is time for serious research to be conducted in which the colour defective can be tested in the real life aviation environment. The first step towards sorting out the mess in which the Department now finds itself is to allow night training, under supervision of colour defective pilots. That would then provide a population of subjects whose performance in aviation related tasks could be measured and compared with their colour normal colleagues.
There may well be some tasks in which the colour defective is at a disadvantage, who knows? But the identification of those tasks and the reassessment of the importance of colour in those tasks is surely not beyond practical research. It needs to be restated again and again, that there are already significant numbers of colour defectives flying large international jets into this country, day and night. If there are at present parts of our system that are colour dependent, then why can’t the system be changed?
I refer particularly to the use of red as a marker for obstructions. IC.A.O: allows the use of white strobes to mark obstructions. Indeed, there is a growing trend in the USA to use white strobes. Such lighting is far superior to the dull, occulting or flashing red type of lighting used here. It would benefit every user, but particularly the colour defective, both our own and those from overseas.
It is finally time that our Department stopped having its colour vision policy dictated to it by organisations such as the Victorian College of Optometry. If there are unanswered questions relating to colour vision, the answers can only be found in the cockpit and in the sky, using real pilots, and examiners or instructors. I have already almost a hundred pilots with colour defective vision who would be willing to take part in any practical research program. Some of those pilots have extensive overseas night flying experience in countries such as the United States, that see the problem less obstructively than what our authorities seem to.
The campaign to have the Colour Perception Standard rationalized will continue. It is my aim to get a better deal for the fifteen hundred or so colour defective pilots of Australia. It is not my aim to embarrass or denigrate anyone. The result of my appeal has demonstrated, or should have, that the Department does not have a monopoly on wisdom in this area. I would like to think that the result could open the way to a fresh re-appraisal of the dilemma faced by the-colour defective pilot. I have commenced writing a major thesis on this topic and I have asked the Department for its cooperation in the project. I have received tremendous support from colour defective pilots all over the country, as I have also from AOPA and others. It is now up to the Department to indicate whether it will obstruct or assist. I genuinely hope they will assist.
My register of colour defective pilots is growing by the day. Any support is welcome, even from those who don't have the problem.