To See or Not to See: Vision Requirements and How to Meet Them
October 1, 2019
Photo courtesy V. Jones
A couple of months back an older gentleman came in for a flight physical. He’d flown a number of years ago and wanted to “get back in the game” now that all the kids were through college and on their own. His health record looked good. He seemed a reasonable candidate for hopping back into the cockpit. Then we tested his vision. Much to our mutual surprise he was blind as a bat! Well, not really blind but he was having trouble seeing 20/100. In case you’ve forgotten what the funny numbers mean, 20/100 indicates that he could read at 20 feet what a person with normal eyesight could read at 100 feet. Not good. He was quite disappointed when I told him that I couldn’t issue a medical certificate until he could demonstrate better vision. He said it had been a couple of years since he’d been to his eye doctor, so I strongly suggested he shoot over there ASAP, get a new pair of glasses and try reading the chart again. I cautioned him that he needed to get on it promptly. I had to send in his physical to the FAA within 14 days of opening it up on-line. If he didn’t get back in that time period I would have to defer him to the FAA for further evaluation—read weeks of waiting around for things to happen.
Time went by. I heard nothing from the airman so I sent in the physical with his deficient eyesight and without issuing a certificate. Sure enough, the very next day he showed up telling me that I had been right. He was blind as a bat because he had cataracts. He had them removed and suddenly could see great! I retested him and found that to be the case, sent in the results of the reexamination to the FAA and about two months later he got his certificate from them.
I might add that the FAA has had some hefty budget cuts over the past two years so things don’t move as quickly as they used to in that shop. It’s not their fault, they just don’t have the people.
So what is the take away from all this? If you have any question about the adequacy of your vision, see an eye doctor before you come in for a flight physical. It will save you a lot of time and frustration. If you do wear corrective lenses you should be seeing an optometrist or ophthalmologist yearly.
If you are a Private Pilot and looking for a Third Class certificate, you will need to be able to see 20/40 or better both with distant and near vision.
If you are looking for a Second or First Class Certificate, the vision requirements are a bit more rigorous. You have to see 20/20 with the right eye, left eye and both when distant vision is tested. Your near vision has to be at least 20/40 right, left and both.
If you have trouble reading the fine print, bring along your reading glasses when you see the AME.
To get a First or Second Class, you also will also be tested for intermediate vision. Intermediate vision refers to eyesight at approximately arm’s length (26 inches to be exact), used for tasks such as computer work, viewing the speedometer in a car or the dials in your cockpit. You can understand why it’s important.
When you see your eye doctor you might want to mention to her that you are a pilot. You might take a copy of this column just in case she’s not familiar with FAA vision requirements.
Also, ask to have your color vision tested. It is not routinely done in a lot of eye exams yet this is also a requirement for all classes of medical certificates. The FAA wants to make sure you can tell the difference among all those lights on the runway and tarmac at night.
Do all of that and you can be assured of flying through the visual testing when you show up for your next flight physical!
Fly wisely. See you next month.
As always, comments, questions and suggestions are welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, we’ve moved our office to Airlake Airport’s FBO (KLVN)! Call 952-469-4414 or email us for a flight physical appointment.