Being a pilot has been one of the most sought-after professions for some time now, and generally speaking, anyone with the funds, experience and flight hours can see this dream become a reality. Though there is a fairly strict limitation in this regard, and unfortunately for many would-be pilots, this limitation is actually a biological one. I am of course speaking of colour blindness, a condition which afflicts around 8% of all men, and about half of that for all women. You may have heard that this affliction makes it impossible for individuals who suffer it to become pilots, and there is truth in that. But what are the reasons for this? Let’s take a closer look…
A closer look at colour blindness
There are three different types of colour blindness identified in humans:
- Tritanomaly occurs when one of the three cones in the eye becomes more sensitive to light than others, which results in a misperception of light colours. This results in reduced sensitivity to the blue spectrum, though this case of colour blindness is one of the rarest types.
- Deuteranomaly occurs when cones associated with sensitivity to green light are out of alignment, often creating confusion between greens and browns. This type is also the most commonly found form of the affliction.
- Protanomaly, which when logic eliminates the above colours from the wheel, naturally affect a person’s ability to perceive red light, affecting their ability to make out colours made up from this pantone.
Why colour is important to a pilot
And now we get to the matter at hand. Pilots come to rely on a lot of modern avionics equipment in their cockpit. These systems are designed to assist with navigation and are also essential for relaying warnings to the pilot considering the condition of the systems on the plane. Unfortunately for the 8 and 4% that are afflicted by colour blindness, these systems make extensive use of colour coding to relay these messages and navigational instructions; particularly using reds and greens. This poses a problem for those afflicted with deuteranomaly and protanomaly types of colour blindness.
Well, is this really fair?
Considering that over 10% of the Earth’s population suffers from one kind of colour blindness or another, one must ask whether this is a fair limitation to prospective pilots. Though when adding up the concern over safety for cargo and passengers, there really is no room to take the risk of ignoring this specification.
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