Colour Vision in Aviation: Part 9
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".
Several other colour defective pilots have applied for a dispensation the same as mine. None, to the best of my knowledge, has been granted it. Some of these pilots have thousands of hours experience and are eminently more qualified than myself. The Department refuses to give to them what I won in the AAT and forces them to the expense of appealing. Should that happen, hundreds of thousands of dollars will be spent by the Department in fighting cases that should be unnecessary. The position is nothing short of crazy.
The First Assistant Secretary, Flight Standards, has written to each of the country's designated medical examiners explaining the significance of the AAT's decision in my case. Further, Professor Cole of the Victorian College of Optometry (the architect of the Colour Perception Standard) has issued a circular to the optometric profession to do the same. It is beyond me why these two men consider colour vision such a big deal. It is, remember, a fact that there is not a single aviation accident or incident on record anywhere in the world where colour vision has been implicated as a causative factor [day or night).
Unfortunately, the Department appears to have backed itself into a corner from which it cannot extricate itself without some loss of face. I wish that it were otherwise. Their present actions will only make matters worse. They appear to look with envy at countries that have far stricter colour vision standards than ours. But those countries don't have appeal mechanisms like we have in the AA T, which is in itself a credit to our legal system.
The colour perception standard is irrational and those who suffer discrimination under it are labelled as "emotional" and treated like ratbags; yet some could be counted amongst the country's most qualified and respected pilots.
The plight of the protan group is particularly interesting. Under the latest modification of the colour perception standard, any pilot applicant found to suffer from a protan defect (that involves some dysfunction of the red receptive pigment in the retina of the eye) is denied even the chance to do a Farnsworth lantern test. The Department justifies this on the basis that protans have a reduced visual range for red lights. But that reduced visual range has never been shown to be of any PRACTICAL significance. I don't deny that the visual range reduction exists, but SO WHAT? It is, as I have previously said, a certainty that there are currently significant numbers of protans flying at night in the most sophisticated of aircraft (those who have passed USA practical tests and those who passed the "old" standard). Their reduced visual range has never been cited as an accident cause. There are almost certainly mild protans flying Australian registered RPT aircraft right now.
If the Department were genuine in their concern for the protan's visual range problem, it should re-test everyone's colour perception to "weed" out those who have slipped through the net in the past. They would certainly find a few airline captains amongst them. Let them then try to convince those pilots and the AFAP of the "danger" they represent. Even the Air Force passes mild protans and has had no recorded problems with them. Our Department is currently failing even those protans who, if given the chance, would "pass" the Farnsworth with nil, one or two errors.
I believe the entire colour perception standard is based on myth and prejudice. That prejudice is no more rational than any racial or religious prejudice that I have ever observed and it is equally repulsive. Mr Peter Duncan, our present Minister, has now been asked to intervene by appointing an independent committee to examine the Colour Perception Standard. With regard to this Minister, I say readily that he has shown more interest in the plight of the colour defective pilot than all his predecessors of the last ten years put together and for that I am grateful and congratulate him.
For all those colour defective pilots who have not yet contacted me, please do so. 1988, I hope, will be the year for big changes. During this year, in one way or another, the Department's Colour Perception Standard will come under unprecedented scrutiny. If you believe you are unjustly treated, if your aviation aspirations are being crushed by your colour vision, then please write to me.