CASA has raised the hackles of the aviation industry by sending out letters questioning the ability of colour-blind pilots to fly safely.
Three letters went out, addressed to pilots, DAME's and holders of Air Operator's Certificates (AOC), suggesting that new research into colour-vision deficiency (CVD) shows that functionality may be effected more than first thought.
Many pilots who failed their initial colour vision tests were issued medical certificates anyway because CASA considered the condition was not likely to endanger safety. Some pilots have logged thousands of hours as ATPLs and CPLs, with no known incident yet recorded where CVD was listed as a contributing factor.
"Recent medical research indicates that the safety-related implications of an individual's CVD may be more significant are than they were initially considered to be," says the letter sent out to DAMEs.
"Accordingly CASA is writing to all affected pilots, asking them to consider whether it is safe for them to continue to exercise their flight crew privileges subject only to the conditions to which they are currently subject, and whether modifications to their flying practices such as limiting their flights to day only, VFR only, or other such limitations as may be appropriate."
Worrying the industry the most is CASA's act in informing employers that they may have a pilot on their books with CVD, and bringing into question the pilot's ability to fly safely.
"[CASA] write to you now, as the holder of an Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) 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."
Dr Arthur Pape, Director of the Colour Vision Deficient Pilots Association (CVDPA), has slammed the letters claiming they are linked to a pending AAT appeal of a CVD pilot fighting licence restrictions.
"Let me tell you that this trio of letters represents outright thuggery, particularly when it is realized that there has not been a scratch on a single aeroplane, let alone an accident or incident that can be attributed to the colour vision deficit of any pilot in over 25 years in Australia, and in over 60 years in the USA," he told Australian Flying.
"Furthermore, none of the three references cited by [CASA Principal Medical Officer] Dr Navathe in his letter to the DAMEs contain any evidence of accidents or incidents attributed to colour vision defectiveness of any pilot.
"There appears to be a link between these letters and the matter of the appeal by John O’Brien against the restrictions he has on his licence stemming from his colour vision defect."
CASA has moved to temper the effects of the letters saying that there is no intent to ground existing CVD pilots, stating that any re-assessment could be years away. No guarantees have been issued for future ATPLs with CVD.
There are reports that some pilots had their ATPL privileges withdrawn, only to have them reinstated after complains from pilots unions.
The Australian Aviation Associations Forum (TAAAF) was not impressed with CASA actions. In a statement released recently they said:
"TAAAF expressed considerable concern with CASA’s recent letter to operators and pilots regarding colour vision deficiency which seeks to place an unreasonable burden on the industry for no identified safety benefit despite many years of safe operation by colour vision deficient pilots.
"TAAAF calls on CASA to withdraw its current colour vision deficiency letter."