Can You Fly a Plane If You Are Colorblind?

Colorblindness affects about 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women worldwide. It is an inherited condition where the cones in the retina, which are responsible for color vision, do not function correctly. This can lead to difficulty distinguishing between certain colors, such as red and green, or blue and purple. For many people, colorblindness is a minor inconvenience, but for pilots, it can potentially be a significant obstacle to obtaining a pilot’s license or working in certain aviation-related jobs.

Understanding Colorblindness

Colorblindness is a genetically inherited condition that affects millions of people around the world. It is caused by a deficiency in the cones in the retina that allow us to see colors. When these cones do not function correctly, individuals may have difficulty seeing certain colors or may see them differently than most people. The most common form of colorblindness is red-green colorblindness, which can make it difficult to distinguish between red and green hues. Other forms of colorblindness can make it hard to differentiate between blue and purple or to see yellows and oranges.

Types of Colorblindness

There are three types of colorblindness: red-green, blue-yellow, and complete colorblindness (achromatopsia). Red-green colorblindness is the most common, affecting around 8% of men and 0.5% of women of Northern European descent. Blue-yellow colorblindness, also known as tritanopia, is relatively rare, affecting less than 1% of the population. Complete colorblindness is exceptionally rare and is estimated to affect just 1 in 30,000 people.

How Colorblindness Affects Daily Life

Colorblindness can impact daily life in various ways, from difficulties at work to challenges with everyday activities. For example, navigating traffic lights, identifying ripe fruit, or identifying color-coded wires can be challenging for people with color blindness. However, for many people with colorblindness, these difficulties are minor, and most adjust their lifestyles to accommodate their condition.

People with colorblindness may have trouble with certain careers, such as graphic design or electrical engineering, where color perception is essential. However, with the help of technology, many people with colorblindness can still pursue these careers. There are also various tools and resources available to help people with colorblindness, such as color-correcting glasses, smartphone apps, and computer software.

It is important to note that color blindness is not a form of blindness. People with colorblindness can still see and function normally in most situations. They may just have difficulty distinguishing between certain colors. In fact, some people with colorblindness may even have enhanced visual abilities in other areas, such as night vision or the ability to see camouflage.

There is ongoing research into treatments for colorblindness, such as gene therapy and color-correcting contact lenses. While these treatments are not yet widely available, they offer hope for the future of colorblindness treatment.

Aviation and Color Vision Requirements

Many aviation-related jobs, such as pilot or air traffic controller, require good color vision. This is because the ability to distinguish between different colors can be crucial for pilots when it comes to reading cockpit instruments or identifying other aircraft in the sky. It is also essential for air traffic controllers responsible for maintaining safe distances between planes.

Color vision deficiencies are relatively common, affecting approximately 8% of men and 0.5% of women of Northern European descent. These deficiencies can be genetic, acquired from certain medications or illnesses, or due to aging.

Commercial Pilot Requirements

In the United States, commercial pilots must be able to pass a color vision test. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), commercial pilots must be able to distinguish between red, green, and yellow. They also have to be able to identify aviation lights or signals that use these colors.

The FAA offers alternative testing for pilots who fail the color vision test. These tests include the use of spectral filters or lanterns that simulate aviation lights. Pilots who pass these alternative tests are granted a Statement of Demonstrated Ability (SODA) that allows them to fly commercially.

Private Pilot Requirements

Private pilots do not need to meet the same strict color vision requirements as commercial pilots. The FAA only requires that private pilots be able to identify aviation lights or signals that use red, green, or white.

However, it is still important for private pilots to have good color vision. This is because they may encounter situations where the ability to distinguish between colors could be crucial for safety. For example, a private pilot flying in low visibility conditions may need to rely on colored instruments to maintain orientation and avoid disorientation.

Air Traffic Controller Requirements

Air Traffic Controllers must pass a color vision test as part of their training. The FAA requires that air traffic controllers be able to distinguish between red, green, and amber. They also have to be able to identify aviation lights or signals that use these colors.

Color vision deficiencies can disqualify a person from becoming an air traffic controller. However, the FAA does offer alternative testing for those who fail the color vision test. These tests involve the use of color vision aids or specialized lighting systems.

Overall, color vision requirements are an important aspect of aviation safety. Pilots and air traffic controllers must be able to accurately interpret and respond to the colors they encounter in their work.

Color Vision Tests for Pilots

Before becoming a pilot, you will need to undergo a color vision test to determine whether you meet the color vision requirements. This is because color vision is an important aspect of a pilot’s job, as they need to be able to distinguish between different colors in order to read and interpret important information on their instruments and displays.

There are different color vision tests available, which can help identify types of colorblindness and the degree of colorblindness a person has. These tests are designed to ensure that pilots have adequate color vision to perform their duties safely and effectively.

Ishihara Test

The Ishihara Test is one of the most common color vision tests. It involves a series of plates with colored dots and shapes. The person being tested must identify the number or pattern within the dots of a particular color. This test is designed to identify red-green color blindness, which is the most common type of color blindness.

During the test, the plates are shown to the person one at a time, and they must identify the number or pattern within the dots. The test is scored based on the number of plates the person can correctly identify.

Farnsworth Lantern Test

The Farnsworth Lantern Test is another common color vision test. It involves identifying a signal light presented in different combinations of colors. This test is used to identify color vision deficiencies that may not be detected by the Ishihara Test.

During the test, the person being tested is shown a series of signal lights, presented in different combinations of colors. They must identify the color of each signal light. The test is scored based on the number of signal lights the person can correctly identify.

Alternative Color Vision Tests

There are also some alternative color vision tests available for individuals who can’t take the Ishihara or Farnsworth Lantern Tests. These include the Panel D-15 Test and the Nagel anomaloscope. The Panel D-15 Test involves arranging colored chips in a specific order, while the Nagel anomaloscope involves matching the brightness of two different lights.

Overall, color vision tests are an important part of the pilot certification process. They help ensure that pilots have adequate color vision to perform their duties safely and effectively, and they can help identify color vision deficiencies that may need to be addressed through training or other accommodations.

Overcoming Colorblindness in Aviation

If you are colorblind and want to become a commercial pilot or air traffic controller, don’t let colorblindness discourage you. There are several ways to overcome colorblindness in aviation.

Using Technology to Assist Colorblind Pilots

Technology can be used to help colorblind pilots overcome their conditions. Color vision-enhancing glasses and filters can be used to help pilots better distinguish different colors. These glasses work by selectively filtering out certain wavelengths of light to enhance the contrast between different colors. This can help colorblind pilots to differentiate between red and green lights, which is important for safe navigation and landing of an aircraft.

Another technology that can assist colorblind pilots is the use of electronic flight displays. These displays use different colors and patterns to convey information about the aircraft’s altitude, speed, and direction. The use of these displays can help colorblind pilots to interpret the information more easily and accurately.

Seeking a Medical Waiver

If a pilot is unable to pass the color vision test but is otherwise healthy and capable of flying, he or she may be eligible for a medical waiver. The FAA may grant a waiver if the pilot can demonstrate that they have other compensating skills or abilities that make up for their color vision deficiency. For example, a pilot may have exceptional spatial awareness or situational awareness, which can compensate for their inability to distinguish certain colors.

It’s important to note that obtaining a medical waiver can be a lengthy and difficult process. Pilots who are considering this option should consult with an aviation medical examiner and be prepared to provide extensive documentation and testing to demonstrate their abilities.

Pursuing Non-Pilot Careers in Aviation

Those who are colorblind but still interested in a career in aviation can consider roles that don’t require color vision. Examples include aviation medicine specialists or aeronautical engineers. Aviation medicine specialists are responsible for ensuring the health and safety of pilots and other aviation personnel, while aeronautical engineers design and develop aircraft and related systems. These careers can be just as rewarding and fulfilling as piloting or air traffic control, and don’t require color vision as a prerequisite.

In conclusion, colorblindness doesn’t have to be a barrier to a career in aviation. With the right tools and resources, colorblind pilots can overcome their condition and pursue their dreams of flying. And for those who are unable to obtain a medical waiver or prefer to pursue non-pilot careers, there are still plenty of opportunities to contribute to the aviation industry and make a difference.


While colorblindness may pose challenges for those interested in flying, there are several ways to overcome it. Pilots and air traffic controllers can take color vision tests to help identify their degree of colorblindness. Specialized technology can also be used to help colorblind pilots distinguish between colors. If a medical waiver is granted, pilots cannot work as commercial pilots, but can still potentially fly as private pilots. There are also numerous aviation-related careers that don’t require color vision. Ultimately, colorblindness shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a barrier to pursuing a career in aviation.

About The Author
Bryson - Bryson is the author and editor of an avid traveler himself, Bryson strives to provide readers with helpful advice, insider tips, and inspiration for their own journeys. With his down-to-earth writing style, Bryson shares his unique perspective on some of the most breathtaking destinations on Earth, and his tried and true travel tips.

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