Colour Vision Defective Pilots Association

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Colour Vision in Aviation: Part 13

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.

There can be no doubt that Denison's appeal, combined with my own, was the most exhaustive examination of the issue of colour defective vision and its significance in aviation ever conducted anywhere in the world.  The overall cost to the taxpayer for the colour vision enquiries, through CAA funding of their case, through legal aid support for Denison and myself, plus the direct costs of the Tribunal, were enormous (I estimate the total to be more than a million and a half dollars).  Both sides had unlimited scope to present every and any relevant argument and in fact did so. Every piece of relevant scientific research ever conducted was looked at.  Both sides agreed that the case would be a "Test Case", to once and for all sort out the problem.  It was even said by the CAA’s representative at the hearing (Neil Jonassen), that, whatever the outcome, the CAA would take the Tribunal's decision to ICAO and actively promote it there, given the extent of the Tribunal's examination.

The decision of the Tribunal was a great relief to all colour defective pilots, who for decades had endured the bureaucratic double talk for which aviation authorities in this country had become renowned.  Had there been an error made by the Tribunal, the CAA had the right to appeal the decision to the Federal Court.  No such appeal was made.  There was no mention in the AAT's decision of limiting the effect of the decision to the CPL. 

Shortly after the AAT's decision was published, I was informed by Dr Rob Liddell, the then newly appointed Director of Aviation Medicine, that although he was not happy with the decision, the CAA would have to live with it.  He indicated the nature of the practical test that Protans would have to undergo, and which I have already described.  He also indicated that the CAA would have to look at a form of practical assessment for applicants for the SCPL and ATPL.  The indications given were that a simulator based assessment would be investigated.  That, I remind the reader was over two years ago. 

There is now a significant number of colour defective pilots who have applied for the more senior ATPL. 

Many are highly experienced pilots, some with foreign airline experience, and others with thousands of hours experience in professional fixed wing and helicopter operations in this country.  Their applications are being rejected by the CAA on the grounds that they fail to meet the colour perception standard (which is still the same "standard", notwithstanding the Denison decision).  The reason being given is that to allow them to operate at the ATPL level would pose an 'unacceptable, albeit small, level of risk'.  The wording of the rejections is such as if the Denison case had never happened. 

As far as the practical test alluded to by Dr Liddell, it transpires that a contract has been let to the Victorian College of Optometry 'to develop a suitable test'.  Those who have followed the colour vision, saga over the years will perhaps recall that the same College figured heavily in providing very expensive advice to the CAA in the run-up to the two AAT appeals (mine and Denison's).  The same College was responsible for research, commissioned to provide the CAA with a 'scientific basis' for its standard.  I had argued relentlessly that the 'standard' previously lacked any scientific basis.  The meticulous analysis by the Tribunal of that research resulted in both the methods used and the results obtained by the College being soundly rejected by the Tribunal.  Expert scientific evidence before the Tribunal was highly critical of the College's efforts. 

In spite of this severe criticism, Professor B. L. Cole of the same College still persists in vigorously promoting the 'research' that bears his name and the standard that he has authored.  In so doing, he argues that the Tribunal made the wrong decision because it 'had great difficulty in understanding the complex nature of the scientific evidence before it'.  Such a misrepresentation is unfair to not only the Tribunal but to all on both sides who worked so hard to effect a balanced and comprehensive examination of a very difficult subject.  In public addresses on record, the Professor denigrates colour defectives (ever-so politely).  He entices his audience to have grave reservations about riding in a London bus (whose drivers are not subject to a colour vision standard) and about flying as a passenger in either Australia or the USA where colour vision standards have been practically emasculated. This man has devoted twenty years of his life to promoting colour vision standards which deny colour defectives a 'fair go'.

Why then has the CAA again turned to Professor Cole and asked him to devise a practical test to assess the suitability of ATPL applicants?  It makes no sense to me!  His hostility on this subject is a matter of public record and the CAA’s actions hardly reflected an even-handed approach and acceptance of the earlier ‘umpire’s decision'.