Air safety authorities are considering tightening medical requirements for the vision impaired. Photo: Jessica Shapiro
Hundreds of colour blind pilots have been put on notice they could be grounded as air safety authorities consider tightening medical requirements for the vision impaired.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has written to 500 aviation licence holders, including 124 commercial pilots working for Virgin, regional airlines and freight companies, warning them it is reviewing new research into ''colour vision deficiency''.
In a separate letter, CASA has asked 900 companies that employ Australian pilots to consider their position on vision impairment.
''I write to you now, as the holder of an Air Operator's Certificate who may employ one or more affected pilots, to encourage you to consider whether it is safe to allow those pilots to continue to exercise flight crew privileges under your AOC, subject only to the existing condition, and what adjustments to those arrangements you may consider to be appropriate, in the interests of safety, pending CASA's further determination of the matter,'' wrote CASA's Industry Permissions manager Peter Fereday on June 5.
Colour blind pilots have been able to co-pilot some passenger planes in Australia for the past 25 years since two landmark cases in the 1980s at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Dr Arthur Pape, a pilot who brought one case said there was ''not a skerrick of evidence to suggest that pilots have made so much as a scratch on an aeroplane as a result of colour vision impairment'' in that time. ''Those pilots have been impeccable,'' he said.
Pilots must still complete a ''signal gun control tower test'' to distinguish between red and green lights in the case of radio failure even though the modern protocol is to call in on a mobile phone in that event.
CASA has written to pilots who failed colour perception requirements as part of their class 1 and class 2 medical certificates.
A group representing Virgin pilots, the Virgin Independent Pilots Association, is fighting CASA on the issue and the Australian Federation of Air Pilots has already responded to the regulator's letter.
''The AFAP believes it is unreasonable and inappropriate that CASA is asking companies or the affected pilots to make assessments about their ability to hold a medical certificate. CASA issued the medical certificates in question and the affected pilots have been operating under these certificates in good faith,'' it wrote.
CASA said the latest medical research was a paper written by Dougal B Watson, principal medical officer at New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority which compared regulatory regimes across the world.
Liberal senator David Fawcett, a former flying instructor and test pilot, has questioned whether the research CASA is relying on is even relevant, saying the regulator was ''undermining the careers'' of hundreds of pilots.
He has written to Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, responsible for CASA, urging a full evidence-based study based on 25 years of accident-free flying.