Study on How Color Blindness Affects Pilots

Besides the unreliability of color vision tests for pilot candidates it is also often discussed, how well your color vision has to be to acquire a pilots license.

Usually you have to have normal color vision—or at least almost perfect color vision—to pass the medical tests on the way to get a pilots license (color vision information for pilots). Any type of color blindness is a no go.

Not everybody agrees with this color vision standards for pilots. While some argue that perfect color vision is required to manipulate all the complex cockpit instruments correctly and see the warn and signal signs for aviation, others say that you don’t need to have perfect color vision to be a good and most important securely flying pilot.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wants to find out more about how color blindness affects pilots. They started a major study and researchers are determining whether color identification difficulty develops, worsens or stays the same at high altitudes.

They are working together with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) and are giving volunteers several color vision tests to identify relations between color blindness and different altitudes. The outcome of this study could provide new sources of information for the requirements on color vision when acquiring a pilots license.

KSBI-TV news on the major study how color blindness affects pilots

26 responses on “Study on How Color Blindness Affects Pilots

  1. Carmack

    Speaking as a severely green-deficient pilot, I can safely say that there is absolutely no reason why a color deficiency should be a factor in a pilot’s ability to be safe with the resources available to pilots today.

    I managed to pass the Farnsworth Lantern test (one of the alternative color vision tests approved by the FAA), but the Ishihara plates are a mystery to me. I basically have no green cones whatsoever (putting my color vision on level with that of a dog), and have safely executed almost 200 landings (25% of those at night, when color vision is supposedly most crucial for a pilot). There is nothing in the cockpit that requires even average color vision.

    Approach lights on runways and signal lights from the tower are color coded. However, it is worth noting that a) anyone with decent spacial perception can interpret their position relative to the runway without needing to reference a color-coding system and b) having spoken with pilots who have been flying for more than 30 years, people literally never use light signals.

  2. Dan

    Color deficient people have better night vision than people with ‘normal’ color vision. It is believed that people with this ‘disability’ (as labeled by the small minded idiots that don’t walk in our shoes) were better night and evening hunters back in the days of hunting and gathering for survival. The military actually uses color deficient people as scouts in certain situations because certain camouflage doesn’t fool them like it does ‘normal’ versioned people. It’s funny how if you fail the stupid tests, you get a night flight restriction when you actually have the advantage of higher contrast and better night vision than an average person. I passed the FALANT. NEVER let a doctor tell you that you can’t live your dream, because you can. Chances are they don’t know JACK about color vision because there is no cure, or treatment, and therefore no money to be made by researching it. The FAA accepts alternate color vision tests other than those dumb ishihara plates, so look on their website and do a search for ‘color vision’. I am a pilot right now, and the ishihara test plates are a mystery to me. As long as you can distinguish red from green from white, you will be fine. Take the FALANT before taking the FAA’s signal light test. (FALANT’s a.k.a. Farnsworth Lantern Tests are usually found at a college or university of optometry, google this.) The FAA will test you on sectional maps color coding as well if you take the FAA’s SLT (SLT is a signal light test, from a control tower). If you take the FALANT first (Or any other accepted FAA test, take them ALL as many times as you want if you don’t pass the first time), you don’t need to take any of the FAA’s extra tests (which by the way the FAA only gives you one or 2 chances), and they get you a letter exempting you from any future color vision tests. If you are willing to battle some bureaucracy, you can still live your dream. Just keep in mind, most people don’t know anything about color vision, even the people at the FAA, only certain doctors do. So you have to be persistent, and don’t rely on what they say. You can look up all of the publications yourself… I had to because they mistakenly told me that the FALANT wasn’t accepted, and I posted this on a FORUM, and an FAA doctor himself went to the top and confirmed for me that it IS accepted and whoever got me this notice was incorrect. If you need any help with this, go on AOPA’s forums, and they can help you get your 1st class medical. If they let people with heart problems fly planes (and they do), theres no reason someone that can’t see a damn number in a cluster **** of colors who sees better at night shouldn’t be able to.

  3. Steven

    I had to put up a fight to train in heating and plumbing, was barred from being a part time volenteer fireman,about time such ignorance was swept away………….

  4. sqwak the talk

    I had some color issues when I went for my First Class Medical I was 18 at the time I never knew I had color visions problems. I am color blind although its never affected me. People and doctors are clueless about what its like to be color blind its nothing except some shades of color especially washed out shades are harder to distinguish. The FAA states in FAR that pilots must be able to see White,Green, and Red. I had a doctor tell me that flying was a unwise choice career wise. He did not know WTF he was saying and I give him the Middle finger. After that experience I don,t trust doctors with the same sureness. anyways I passed the Farnsworth Latern thing and I am working on my CFI as we speak. If anyone doubts that color blind pilots are dangerous I would say find me one accident that was attributed to color vision. I praise and am happy to hear there other pilots out there that fought for what we all deserve.

  5. R. C. Thompson, ATP, CFI

    There is one accident, NTSB AAR 04-02, in which the flying pilot in a FedEx plane crashed at TLH airport short of the runway. It was later determined that he had passed the Farnsworth Lantern test but when tested afterward in much more detail he was found to have a serious red – green problem, and did not properly see and interpret the PAPI to runway 9. Please, please contact Gary Crump at AOPA for up to date information on the brand new regulations (some are retroactive I believe)for testing and advice for us pilots re strategy in the case of waivers, etc.

  6. Dan

    About that NTSB AAR 04-02. That accident had nothing to do with color vision. THey were just looking for something to point the finger. Regardless the First Officer (who was flying that leg) did have a severe color vision problem and did admit to ‘cheating’ on the FALANT test. They are trying to use this accident as an excuse to tighten the color vision standards again… It’s utter nonsense because he admitted to getting ‘help’ from the sympathetic Doctor. But either way if you read the accident report you will see that it has nothing to do with color vision aside from the doctors attacking the subject. It was their last leg of the day and they were exhausted… The PAPI lights apparently had condensation on them too rendering them indistinguishable to even those with ‘normal’ color vision. (Known issue with them when they aren’t on for longer than 30 minutes)

    Aside from that the 2 other non flying pilots with ‘normal’ color vision didn’t make mention of 4 red lights on the PAPI at all and they were clearly looking at the same runway as the F/O, and the cockpit voice recorder confirms this. One of them would have said 4 reds we are low, pull up! But they didn’t, because they apparently didn’t see the 4 red lights either. This is a perfect example of the government trying to please the lawsuit happy majority by pointing blame on something that had nothing to do with the accident. Color vision was NOT the cause of that accident. Read the report and formulate your own opinion if you don’t believe me. or just search for NTSB AAR 04-02

  7. Dan

    Testing a pilots color vision should go no further than holding up a Red card, Green card, White card, Yellow Card and Blue Card and asking them to identify. This would be all that is necessary, if even that. There are always redundant ways to get the same information in most cases in aviation anyway.

  8. Dan

    Also note this:
    But William Walsh, the flight’s captain, told the St. Petersburg Times that the lights indicated they were making a safe descent.

    And Don Maciejewski, an aviation lawyer for the pilots, said the crash probably was caused by malfunctioning warning lights. He said Frye has a “blue-green color problem” that would not affect his ability to see red.

    this is from:

    Another case in point that the whole thing is a sham.

  9. Chris

    I agree with dan 200% when he said:

    “It’s funny how if you fail the stupid tests, you get a night flight restriction when you actually have the advantage of higher contrast and better night vision than an average person.”

    I’m finishing my ppl. I have a red-green problem and I knew it before my medical so I fully expected getting the restriction. When i took the test, long story short, I guessed correctly. So now that I have several years of night flying freedom, I have learned that the only time I can distinguish the glideslope lights with 100% accuracy is at night. So what kind of sense does it make to not let me fly at the time that I can see the colors the best?

  10. Bruno

    I am an Avionics engineer and being a person who deals with flight deck’s man-machine interface design, I must tell you that colorblindness-proof is not something that the industry looks at. We, the planemakers, and the Regulators take for granted that the crew will have accurate color vision.

    I would like to hear more from actual colorblind pilots regarding their experiences. If you’re a pilot with a mild to severe colorblindness condition that affects your ability to discern red from green, how would you react, for instance, on a TCAS Resolution Advisory where you’re supposed to adjust your vertical speed indicator out of the red band and into the green band? Or the terrain information overlay on maps? Or even to weather radar scans?

    All those Avionics systems rely heavily on color use to convey information to the pilots. And we are heading more and more to color coding information presented to the crew, such as in completely overlaid terrain+traffic+weather information or, even further, Synthetic Vision Systems.

    If on one hand I might agree that not all colorblind people should be prevented to be a pilot (and I do not know what kind of tests are usually in place to assess that), on the other I think more and more specific tests need to be carried for personnel in that career to take into account the technological advancements the industry is pursuing.

    Best regards,


  11. AD

    I have an idea… let’s change the color of the lights so there is higher contrast, it will help everyone…

    If we have to put ramps in for people in wheel chairs why not acomedate those with color issues. Let’s stop the discrimination.

  12. Dan

    The problem with the standards are the tests they use… They either pass or fail people and make no determination as to the type or severity of color deficiency. The most common type is deuteranomoly (green week). If this is mild, you will have trouble with most of the tests, but no trouble in the real world telling apart any colors. This is the biggest problem in my opinion, and is why a real world test should ALWAYS be an option for any part of the world. I can tell the PAPI/VASI MUCH clearer at night as well…

  13. Heywood

    This whole issue is essentially man-made. It would be possible to pick colors which are not difficult for some to discern – instead of red-green on instruments as one poster mentioned, work in some blue or yellow or, on critical items, black and white. Things may look more gee whiz with a zillion colors but they may not really be more effective. It’s an accident of history, and now a custom, that puts such emphasis on red and green.

  14. alp

    “Color vision is essential for recognizing aircraft position lights, light-gun signals, airport beacons, approach-slope indicators, and chart symbols, especially at night.” This is true but in my several thousand hours, I have never had a problem even when I fly glass cockpits that are heavily color coded. I can’t even imagine getting confused between any of these vividly colored signals. I tend to find airports and orient aircraft quicker at night because of their vivid colors.

    Over the years I convinced myself that I must have an incredibly weak color deficiency or near normal vision as I have never had trouble distinguishing colors and was passing color vision tests even for my first class medicals. So I thought it would be safe to try to fly for the Air Force. After passing the initial medical and getting my pilot slot I was medically disqualified at Brooks. They gave me a whopping 8 different color vision tests, most of them plate tests, testing different anomalies. They concluded I have a moderate to severe color deficiency! I was absolutely blown away. The doctor asked me if I could tell the difference between red and green on stoplights; there is clearly a considerably amount of ignorance in the authorities who decide our fate.

    I know through many experiences and accomplishments I am a very qualified and capable individual. I am now disqualified from a huge number of occupations without the option of a wavier.

  15. JR

    I am currently running the gauntlet of color vision tests like many other aviators out there as I am color deficient. I am unable to pass the PiP (Ishihara Plates) but have successfully passed the FALANT and Farnsworth D-15 color visions exams.

    I currently hold a Class I medical and have over 1,600 hours in complex aircraft. I have never had a problem with seeing red, green or white and cannot even begin to express how frustrating it is that the FAA has recently changed the rules to have all pilots who rely on the FALANT to prove their color perception to take it once a year (previously it was once a lifetime and you’re good).

    That’s a massive amount of pressure when your occupation is riding on a test that is in excess of 40 years old, and is becoming harder and harder to locate. I trust they have their reasons but the bottom line is sometimes you need to fight for your dreams. Never let someone tell you that you cannot do something. Hammer down, do the deed, and do your best.

    It will be good enough.

  16. Brett Mather


    I had basically the same thing happen to me, got DQed at Brooks for color vision, but after I had already moved to my pilot training base. I’m still here fighting an uphill battle to get an exception to get into pilot training.

    Shoot me an email sometime; I have some interesting information I’d like to share with you. (

    If my exception doesn’t work out, my plan is to transfer to the Navy because all they require is passing the PIP I.

  17. Kennan

    Hi i’m about to start my study in becoming a pilot but i think i will not pass the medical exam because of that isihara plate. the doctor told me i have a deficiency in distinguishing colors. but they also asked what color are the things found in the room. i answered it correctly. but i know they will not aknowledge that one. i’m from philippines and i’m a bit dismayed that i would be studying a course in which i know i won’t win at the end. please email me, i nid help in taking other medical exam to be able to work for commercial airlines.

  18. Bernadette

    My son is awaiting an interview to be an apprentcie avionics engineer with cityjet.
    He is colour deficient and i’m worried he won’t pass the medical, is it a requirement for avionics engineers to pass the test – he is planning on getting the chromagen lens – would it be accepted?

  19. Kevin

    I am a colour deficient pilot.I cannot see any numbers except the first plate on the Ishiara 24 plate test.I can see all the colours in the cockpit without any problem.

    I have been flying for 16 years and accumulated 12000 hours incident free.
    At the moment I am a Capt on a Boeing 737-800.

    I wish I could invite the authorties to the simulator to proof that colour vision requirements are nonsense!

  20. Randy Kelso

    Perhaps the experience of a colorblind old man may help in some way. When I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1962 I was unable to see any numbers in the book with colored circles. The recruiter said that I could still be in the Navy but could not be in aviation or electronics. At boot camp graduation I received orders to aviation electronics school which I later graduated from with second highest honors. My experience in working all these decades in the field of electronics has been that I have little trouble reading color codes (carbon composition resistors, for instance) as long as the light is sufficiently bright. After the Navy I applied for an electronics job at a defense contractor’s plant. Their color test (in 1968) consisted of identifying the colors of 3 bows of knitting twine attached to a piece of cardboard, and the twine was dirty from long use. In the dim fluorescent light I answered incorrectly and was told to sit on a bench in the dimly lit hallway just outside the door. Soon a nurse approached and handed me a bundle of multi-colored wires and asked me to call off their colors. Seeing that my only hope of getting the job lay in a snow job, I grabbed each wire and rapid-fire started calling out any color I could think of, finishing in record time. I got the job and worked designing and testing electronic hardware there for more than 3 decades. My point is that the various kinds of colorblindness generally seem to respond well to bright colors under good incandescent light, but these colored dot tests consist of pastels which are rarely used to convey coded information. Most folks who have color vision deficiency understand this, but those with “normal” color vision just can’t imagine what we’re talking about. And therein lies the problem in getting realistic color vision tests.