Colour Vision in Aviation: Part 11
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.
All the indications are that the Department is intent to fight the case tooth and nail, once again to "protect" it’s colour perception standard. They have indicated that they wish to lead something like twenty witnesses, covering perhaps ten days of evidence, much of which was extensively covered in the hearing of my own appeal last year. They are known to be actively canvassing for potential witnesses from within the airlines, the military, G.A. and the National Safety Council (!!! ). I have had several phone calls from people who have been approached and have refused to co-operate.
One must wonder what the point of all this is. Well, firstly, a case of such length is well beyond the means of any individual and Jonathan will simply have to back off unless he can persuade the Attorney General's Department to provide him with legal aid. The Department's case alone will cost hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars. That is your money and mine! Secondly, what momentous new evidence can there be that will demonstrate that colour defectives are unsafe? I suggest that there is none!
The Tribunal that heard my case expressed concern on two major issues with respect to colour coded information that might create problems for colour defectives. They were: red obstruction lighting and Electronic Flight Information System (EFIS) displays. They clearly discounted the colour coding of navigation lights as being irrelevant to collision avoidance, as was also the case with colour used in aerodrome lighting systems. It is impossible to conceive of how ten days of evidence could possibly be lead (by only one side) on the remaining contentious issues.
What in fact the Department is up to is this: They appear to want to conduct a de-facto appeal against the outcome of my own case. They had the opportunity to lodge an appeal after my case and didn't take it, because there were no grounds. Instead, they tried unsuccessfully to nullify my result with nonsense about radios and lFR circuits! They lost, fair and square, and they don't like it. So Denison is to be a scapegoat, a vehicle for another bash at it, on the theory is that if you can't win with quality evidence, then let's try quantity - lots of it - ten days of it. He won't be able to afford it!
I have been doing a lot of night flying and have taken and studied many photographs of the night scene from my aircraft. As well, I have discussed the significance of red lighting of obstructions with a large number of pilots. There are several pertinent facts that have emerged from this. The first is that obstruction lights are not the only source of red light visible to the night flying pilot. The second is that all lit objects represent obstructions with which collision should be avoided.
What is of primary interest to the pilot, with respect to any light he may happen to see, is:
(a) how far is it?; and
(b) what relationship vertically and horizontally, does it have to my projected flight path?
The answers to both these questions are not conveyed in the colour (or wavelength) component of the light. The answers, in fact, are derived from the "relative movement" of the light, observed by the pilot as he moves through space. This relative movement is "relative" to both the moving pilot and relative to other fixed lights that may be visible at the time.
The subject of obstruction lights represents a last-ditch stand by the Department to justify its colour perception standard. I should point out that in the earliest discussions I had with Departmental officials, long before my own case, I was assured that the only grounds on which they were concerned for colour defectives was the coloured navigation lights and that they saw no real problem with such things as obstruction lighting, taxiway lights, control tower signals and the like. They now are arguing exactly the opposite. Trying to discuss this whole issue with the Department is like trying to play cricket with a team that can shift the stumps anywhere and anytime it chooses, and with no umpire.
It is probably irrelevant what the "real" grounds are. Throughout this incredible saga, the real issue has always been that of authority and power. "Challenge us, and we will fight you, irrespective of the facts and irrespective of the cost. And even if you win, we will beat you. We will appeal, and break you financially." Such is the mentality behind the Department's colour vision policy.
There is one breakthrough to report. Mr John Wright has written to me informing me of a change in policy on night flying training for colour defectives, soon to be announced in the AIC's. Those who presently don't meet the colour perception standard are to be allowed to do night circuit training with an instructor who does meet the standard. I am sure that the Department has come to realise that they may have been open to legal action in the event of an accident involving a pilot who had specifically been denied any night training in the course of his career. This is a small but significant concession.
AOPA has given this campaign on colour vision a great deal of support because it recognises that there is an important principle at stake that goes far beyond the immediate issues. I urge everyone, whether they have normal or abnormal colour vision, to support this campaign in whatever way they can.