Federal Aviation Regulations, or FARs, require pilots to meet colour vision standards. These standards include the ability to distinguish green from red, as well as the ability to discern the colours yellow and white. The Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, requires pilots to pass a colour vision test to obtain an unrestricted first-, second- or third-class medical certificate. The FAA does occasionally allow medical waivers for pilots who do not meet colour vision standards.
The Ishihara plate test is the most common type of colour vision test used in aviation. It is given at all first-, second- and third-class medical examinations. The test consists of a plate, with a background colour and a two-digit number of another colour. For instance, a red background with a green "17." A pilot who can see the number(s) passes the test; while a pilot who cannot is deemed colorblind and fails the colour vision test, leading to a deferred or restricted (no night flight) medical certificate.
Farnsworth Lantern Test
The Farnsworth lantern test, or FALANT, was an alternative examination that could be given to pilots who either failed or declined to take the Ishihara plates test. The FALANT consisted of a lantern that flashes light of various colours (including red, green, yellow and white) to a pilot who must discern those colours. According to Leftseat, this test had a higher pass rate than the Ishihara plates. FALANT tests were given at a few locations throughout the United States. As of 2008, the FAA no longer accepts the FALANT as an alternative test.
A pilot who either fails or declines the Ishihara plate test may also apply to the FAA to undergo an in-flight colour test. This test takes place during an actual flight, where the pilot takes an FAA pathologist up on a short flight at an airport with a control tower. The tower flashes light gun signals of various colours (including red, green, yellow and white) at the pilot, who must distinguish the colours.
Under current FARs, a pilot has the opportunity to pass either the Ishihara plate test or the flight test. If the pilot passes the Ishihara, he must retake the test during every FAA medical examination. If a pilot passes the flight test, he receives a Letter of Endorsement, or LOE, from the FAA exempting him from further colour vision testing. If a pilot fails both tests, then he is either denied a medical certificate or issued a restricted medical certificate that does not allow night flight.
The FAA may, at its discretion, issue a waiver to a pilot who fails colour vision testing. This waiver allows the pilot to be issued an unrestricted medical certificate and exempts her from further testing. It is rare for the FAA to issue a colour vision waiver.
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