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The Empire Strikes Back! on Colour Defective Pilots

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The Empire Strikes Back! on Colour Defective Pilots

Old 16th Nov 2013, 05:36
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Exclamation The Empire Strikes Back! on Colour Defective Pilots

Dear All,


First, let me give you a concise history of the struggle by and for those pilots who have a colour vision defect. My role in the struggle is well documented over many years. I am an Australian GP and Aviation Medical Examiner and have been a lifelong campaigner for the rights of colour vision defective (CVD) pilots.

I started my flying in 1976, at the Mid Murray Flying Club in Swan Hill, Victoria. Within a couple of years I managed to hold a CPL and a Command Instrument rating, but because of my CVD, I was prohibited from flying at night. I was mystified as to why this restriction was in place and after about ten years of research, I appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to have the night restriction removed. In the process of preparation I was assisted enormously by AOPA, both morally and financially. One of the memorable highlights in the preparation was a large meeting held at the club rooms of the Mid Murray Flying Club to which a couple of hundred colour defective pilots flew and drove from across the country to offer support and help plan the assault on the aviation colour perception standard.

The success of my own appeal was a just reward for a great deal of hard work and wide support, but the victory was bitter-sweet, as the Authority of the day refused to let the benefit of my success flow to any other pilot with the colour vision problem. That in turn led to a second far more comprehensive appeal for all the colour defective pilots of Australia. This case was nominally on behalf of Jonathon Denison, a young colour defective commercial pilot who had qualified for night flight in New Zealand, but who was prohibited from night flight in Australia. By mutual agreement between the parties, it was decided by the AAT to treat the Denison appeal as a wide-sweeping test case.

Again, the appeal succeeded and the ban on night flight was overturned for all colour defective pilots in Australia. To this date, the Denison appeal is still the most comprehensive examination of aviation colour vision standards that has ever been conducted in the entire world. The hearings lasted for over 30 days and called witnesses including experienced pilots and air traffic controllers, optometrists and visual perception psychologists to name just a few. As a direct result of the appeal’s success, many such pilots found doors opening to career opportunities that were previously denied to them.

During a period of relative sanity and pragmatism, the (now called) Department of Transport opened the way for colour defective pilots to use the ATPL if they could pass the control tower signal gun test. A pass on this test earned them a clean medical certificate, on which there was no longer any mention of colour vision related restrictions. I myself passed this test, and, had I been a younger man, I could have entertained a career as an airline pilot, notwithstanding the fact I had a diagnosis of deuteranopia, which is one of the more severe forms of colour vision defect. I continued in my medical career and enjoyed a modest participation in aviation. The colour vision issue was never far from my mind.

Many pilots with colour vision defects did pass the control tower signal gun test and many, who prior to 1990 would not have been allowed to fly a C152 at night, made it all the way to the rank of Captain in the various airlines in Australia. A significant number are still employed amongst the most senior and experienced crew.

All would have been well, but for the fact that some competent pilots had trouble passing the control tower signal gun test and as a result they remained banished to the rank of First Officer within the various airlines. As their numbers grew, it became obvious to me that the control tower signal gun test was being used as an arbitrary device to determine if a CVD pilot could be classified as “safe” or “unsafe”.

At the level of airline aviation, the control tower signal gun is a device that no airline pilot is ever likely to have to endure. Not only is the chance of exposure to such a signal almost infinitesimally small, the interpretation of such a signal is operationally impossible. Without labouring the point, imagine a B737 captain finding that he has lost radio communication as he calls “ready” at the holding point of a major runway at Sydney airport. There are three possible signals: white (return to starting point), red (not clear for take-off) and green (cleared for take-off). A 737 at a holding point cannot do a U-turn without entering the runway, which can’t be done without a green signal light, which in turn has the meaning of clear for take-off. It amounts to simple nonsense and the control tower signal lamp (at least for RPT operations) belongs in the aviation museum.

So it is that one of the pilots who is being held back from using his ATPL by his inability to pass the signal gun test has lodged an appeal to the AAT to have his restrictions removed. At first, it seemed that his appeal could be limited to just the issue of whether the signal gun test was a real world “practical test” that realistically delineated between “safe” and “unsafe”, but this is not the way CASA is treating the appeal.

Documents lodged to the AAT make it clear that CASA is treating this appeal as a golden opportunity to try to turn the clock back some 25 years in regard to the colour vision standard. It is patently clear that CASA is seeking to reverse every gain made in the Pape and Denison cases a quarter of a century ago and in the years that followed. Their desire is to reimpose restrictions of the most radical nature for those who fail to meet their renewed strict standard. Not only are CASA trying to restrict these pilots from progressing their careers, they are now actively proposing changes that would end their careers entirely.

(TID formatting)

There are two issues I want to bring to the attention of the entire aviation industry of Australia. The pilot who has lodged this appeal is a dedicated, hardworking and very competent pilot, employed as a First Officer on the Dash 8 for a regional airline. He has some 6000 hours of experience in a wide variety of operations. His company, his superiors and his peers endorse his professionalism and want him to assume command. But he does not have access to the sort of funds that CASA will be throwing into the legal battle that is looming. He has managed to obtain legal representation at a substantially discounted rate, but even with the discount, he would have to find a minimum of about $100,000 in costs to present his case and tackle the might and the apparently unlimited financial resources of CASA. We estimate that CASA is spending over half a million dollars on this case.

The second issue is that a failure of this appeal would have enormous ramifications for several thousand Australian pilots who have a colour vision defect. I know of many airline pilots whose careers would be adversely impacted should this appeal fail. Add to that the hundreds of CVD commercial pilots who could once again find themselves restricted to the pre 1989 limitations, and possibly even more drastic restrictions (for example, no instrument ratings, no carriage of passengers, no night flying at all). It is beyond belief, but these are the aims of the current CASA medical staff in regard to this appeal.

It is indeed patently obvious that CASA is treating this appeal as a de-facto appeal against the Denison decision of 1989 and if they succeed I predict a catastrophic result for the entire colour vision defective pilot community of Australia.

The preparation of this appeal is well advanced. We have a strong case and the likelihood of success is reasonable (there are no certainties in life except death and taxes, isn’t that how the saying goes?). The single most daunting obstacle to success is first and foremost the problem of costs. Whereas Denison’s and my appeal were ultimately funded by the Legal Aid system, it appears that such funding will not be forthcoming for this appeal. I am amazed at this fact, as there is no doubt that CASA is treating the appeal as a “Test Case”. If CASA goes ahead in this planned manner, it will be very much a case of “Might over Right”.

There are two things I want to ask the general pilot community to consider. The first is that each and every pilot considers a contribution to a fighting fund to help fund his case. I ask this of all, but more so, of those pilots who have enjoyed the benefits of the struggle waged all those years ago in liberating the thousands of Australian colour defective pilots from the irrational and unjust colour vision standard. The second thing I ask is that people write to their politicians and in particular the Minister, Warren Truss, to voice their disapproval of the tactics being employed by CASA to overwhelm and discriminate against a group of deserving, competent and safe pilots.

Last year I set up a not-for-profit organisation called the Colour Defective Pilots Association Pty Ltd which is incorporated in Victoria - www.cvdpa.com.

Kind Regards,

Dr Arthur Pape
E: [email protected]

Last edited by Jetdriver; 21st Nov 2013 at 02:02.
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Old 16th Nov 2013, 08:03
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Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Dr. Pape. This topic is now stickied on this forum.

May I suggest you contact Nick Xenophon with your concerns on this particular case. I know of at least one other case where he has intervened with the draconian (and backward) AVMED section of CASA, and achieved a speedy and favourable outcome for an aggrieved ATPL holder.


Last edited by Tidbinbilla; 16th Nov 2013 at 08:19.
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Old 16th Nov 2013, 09:41
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Could i suggest a PayPal option? It'll widen the scope for potential donors.
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Old 16th Nov 2013, 22:37
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What happened to the message.

Is it my computer or has Arthur Pape's message gone?
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Old 17th Nov 2013, 01:11
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Is it my computer or has Arthur Pape's message gone?
It's there alright, but only colour blind pilots are able to read it.
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Old 17th Nov 2013, 12:43
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Subject matter is not there...??
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Old 17th Nov 2013, 14:43
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Seriously, could someone please post Dr.Pape's original message.
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Old 17th Nov 2013, 18:28
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another problem is their treatment of type 2 diabetics.

anyone out there ready to start another "Sticky"
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Old 17th Nov 2013, 20:27
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Exclamation Earlier post by Arthur Pape

My post "The Empire Strikes Back" is still coming up when I log in. If it has been withdrawn, I can imagine it is only because in the post I ask for financial support. Anyone who wants to see the post and to support this very worthy cause can find the links on the cvdpa.com website. It is vitally important that CASA be prevented from winning this contest in the AAT by suffocating the appellant, John O'Brien.

Arthur Pape
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Old 17th Nov 2013, 20:30
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The Empire Strikes Back

Oh, by the way, if you are having problems seeing the original post, try to have it re-posted by contacting the moderator in a private message.
Arthur Pape
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Old 17th Nov 2013, 22:01
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Is it possible to get sponsorship through somebody in the optical game.

A lot here are on the bones of their bum so to speak and probably wouldn't make much of a difference in the big scheme of things. Support goes without saying, so we all hope some philanthropists who normally prefer to remain anonymous will send you a PM.

I'll send a couple of emails to worthy Lawyers and mention the words Pro bono. I know this generally makes them choke on their T bone steaks, but something like this could benefit them more in advertising than cash. I'll ask them to contact you direct, so you may keep us informed personally.

The other thing I can think of is a Government grant from The Public Interest and Test Case Scheme if it is still going.

Perhaps Creampuff knows if this is still an option?

Keep up the good work Arthur.
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Old 17th Nov 2013, 22:30
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It amazes me that CASA are being so regressive. Colour vision restrictions were regulated way back in the 40's and 50's when they actually had some context. With the technological advances of today I can't think of a single application that is affected by colour vision. My bet is CASA will be playing the international standards card.

I am happy to make a donation to this fight but I agree with Frank, I doubt that the Pilot fraternity as a whole will raise the required funds. Surely there are CVD Pilots out there who are members of the AFAP or other unions. If so, and their jobs are threatened by this (as they will be), then the their union must have an obligation to protect them.

The AFAP in fact offer substantial Loss of License insurance to their members. My guess is they would have a financial interest in this as well as an obligation.
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Old 17th Nov 2013, 22:32
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This may be a stupid question but wouldn't a union like AFAP be interested in something like this?
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Old 18th Nov 2013, 01:03
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Have another read Dr Pape's post. It appears quite clear to me.
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Old 18th Nov 2013, 01:08
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maybe you can sticky this to the airliner / rpt forum too (Australia, New Zealand & the Pacific - PPRuNe Forums) considering they could be adversely affected and probably have more funds than your average GA pilot.
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Old 18th Nov 2013, 02:51
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Just to clarify, does the control tower signal gun test refer to or cover the Farnsworth Lantern test? Or are they different tests??
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Old 18th Nov 2013, 03:51
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Thanks Tidbinbilla for stickying this important topic.

Are CASA proposing a colour vision test more restrictive than the tower gun signal test?
Yes. As a result of these proceedings, we have become aware that CASA are 'reviewing' their testing procedures with a view to introducing the new 'CAD' test into Australia. For CVD's, this test is even harder to pass than the signal gun test. See below for a demo:

It is important to acknowledge that CVD's will always perform poorly in any colour vision test. The issue is whether this bears any resemblance to our ability to fly safely.

CASR 67.150 (6)(c) requires a test which simulates an operational situation. Up until now, the signal gun test has always been used for this purpose. Despite it's highly questionable relevance to modern aviation as Arthur has already explained, the CAD test is far worse. If anyone can tell me how this above test simulates anything a pilot does in an aircraft then I'd be very interested to know!

Further, we are aware of professional pilots who have attempted this CAD test and failed it. For example, we personally know of airline Captain's in Australia (who have got there by virtue of passing the signal gun test) and have gone through the recruitment process for overseas carriers such as Emirates but have been unsuccessful because they have failed the CAD. So they are safe to return to our shores and be Captains of B737's and A320's, yet they are considered 'unsafe' to fly similar aircraft overseas.

The CAD, like most colour vision tests, does a very good job of diagnosing one's CVD, but it in no way reflects a pilot's ability to fly an aircraft safely. To make matters worse, AVMED are recommending that for those who fail this CAD test should it be introduced here, that we be issued with VFR only medical certificates, valid for daytime operations only and with no carriage of passengers.

Clearly any restrictions such as these would make CVD pilots unemployable and be a complete reversal of all the gains made since the Pape & Denison decisions.

Fundamental to our argument is that as professional pilots, we are required to demonstrate on a regular basis our ability to fly safely by way of passing sim and line checks. Arthur delivered this very insightful presentation to the International Congress of Aviation and Space Medicine in Melbourne last year which highlights the lunacy of the situation:

This may be a stupid question but wouldn't a union like AFAP be interested in something like this?
We are in contact with the various unions including AFAP, as well as various politicians and are requesting their support. If people cannot afford to contribute financially, as Arthur mentioned one vital thing which everyone can do is to email their politicians as well as their respective unions to encourage them to support this matter.

My bet is CASA will be playing the international standards card.
That is certainly one of the things they are trying to do. It is well known that Australia is already one of the most liberal countries in the world when it comes to CVD standards. However, that is only as a direct result of the hard work of Arthur and others during the Pape & Denison appeals which was a victory for common sense as well as using empirical evidence based on facts. It is a matter of record that on the final day of the Denison hearings that both parties agreed that it was the most thorough and exhaustive examination of colour vision standards that had ever been undertaken in the entire world. Both sides agreed that whatever the result, they would accept it and promote it internationally. The CAA back then ultimately lost decisively and of course never did promote the result amongst other ICAO nations, which is part of the reason why Australia is still out on a limb all these years later.

There is an attitude within the current medical hierarchy to set right their failure in both of these previous cases, which is why they're going into this current battle with the view to literally win it 'at all costs'.

Thanks in advance for your support and feel free to email myself or Arthur should you wish to find out more info.

[email protected]
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Old 18th Nov 2013, 05:41
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If you pass the Farnsworth lantern test you don't require the tower light test.
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Old 18th Nov 2013, 07:06
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So what, precisely, are the so-called ‘representative bodies’ being paid to do, if not support this pilot?

And why is it going to cost $100,000 to copy and paste the submissions from the Pape and Denison matters into the submissions for the new matter?
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Old 18th Nov 2013, 09:04
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Can a colour restricted pilot tell the difference between a red and starboard nav light?
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