Colour Vision in Aviation: Part 6
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:
- By the Instrument Flight Rules Aircraft weight limited to 3500 Kg
- Maximum Airspeed of 180 Knots
- I must have a second, independently powered, VHF radio,
The Tribunal felt that my experience was an important consideration in reaching its conclusion. The decision is important in many respects. Firstly, the Tribunal put to rest once and for all the notion that the colours of navigation lights on aircraft are of any consequence. Pilots do not use them in the way claimed by the Department and the colour defective pilot is not disadvantaged by not being able to distinguish them. The bright strobes and anti-collision beacon provide all the cues necessary for collision avoidance long before the navigation lights come into view.
The use of coloured lights around aerodromes, similarly, was seen to be of little consequence when considering the degree of handicap suffered by the colour defective pilot. I am most grateful to Dr R McKelvey, who Ioaned me his slides of night time aerodrome environments, and which were of great value as evidence in the Tribunal.
The Tribunal found that an experienced pilot would not be at any disadvantage in interpreting the "too Iow" signal on the T-Vasis. The Tribunal did, however, express concern for the ability of the colour defective pilot in using the new EFIS type instrumentation and the speed with which a colour defective might recognize the red obstruction lights, particularly the Iow intensity, non-flashing type of obstruction light. It was with these two concerns in mind that the Tribunal indicated the need to restrict me to the less sophisticated, lower speed type aircraft tor night flying. The issue of whether a colour defective would in fact be slower or less reliable in interpreting EFIS type displays was not, however, fully explored in this hearing. The fuller examination of the experiment of Professor Barry Cole, in which he found that colour defective NON PILOTS were slower and made more errors will have to be done at some future hearing, and for that we are already well equipped.
As for obstruction lights, it is open to the Department to move away from the use of steady red lights to flashing red, or better still, flashing white lights for this purpose. That would remove all potential barriers to completely abandoning the colour perception standard.
The result of my case will no doubt be of immediate benefit to some deutans (green deficient) who have an instrument rating and considerable experience. They may want to follow suit and apply for a similar dispensation. There are others, however, who will not benefit unless there is a change in the Department's philosophy, and it is to this end that I now want to direct my energies.
As stated by Dr Watkins in a letter to AOPA earlier this year, the technical changes required for a complete removal of the colour vision standard are not extensive. Put very simply, it would involve the substituting of white lights where red is currently used, thereby removing any difficulty the Protan (red deficient) group may have in seeing red lights. I have no doubt in my mind that colour defectives of all types would be able to use EFIS type instruments as competently as any colour normal and I will be urging the Department to take another Iook at this particular concern of theirs.
It is an indisputable fact that colour defective pilots are already using the airways both by day and by night.
They include the classes currently permitted by the Department to fly at night and the pilots who fly international jet aircraft into this country from other countries that have far less stringent colour vision requirements (e.g. the United States, New Guinea, New Zealand and more). Some severely colour defective pilots are using the system NOW, as it stands. It is imperative that to make the system completely safe for all, the system should be changed, and not the pilots. This will be not only for the colour defective pilots of today, but for the generations to come.
I believe the Department will eventually see the logic of this approach, but they will see it more readily if colour defective pilots unite and present a coordinated appeal. To that end I urge ALL colour defective pilots (I estimate. there must be some two thousand of us) to contact me and register their interest. I need to have some basic details such as names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, licence level, ratings, experience in hours, and if known, the type of colour vision abnormality of each one. Once I have your name on my database, I will keep each one informed of any progress and developments.
Finally, I would like to thank the many who have offered moral and financial support to me in coming this far. That includes particularly AOPA, the Australian Federation of Airline Pilots, Dr Robert McKelvey, Dr Norm Roth, Surgeon Commander Michael Flynn RAN, Capt Ray Vullermin, Capt Max Langshaw, Capt Danny Murphy, Capt Allan Mellor, ATC Officer D Charles Stuart (who all provided invaluable evidence at the Tribunal). I believe I had the finest possible legal team in Mr Laurie Gruzman QC, Mr Kevin Bell, and Mr Lawrence Maher (of Howie and Maher). Their efforts went far beyond the call of duty and are particularly appreciated. Finally, there are the many who contributed funds or offered to appear as witnesses, too many to list. In particular though, I thank Ben Buckley of "ALHARG" who donated $1,000 to the cause.