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With how precise pilots need to be as they take off, fly, and land, they probably need to have perfect vision, right?
Pilots do not need to have perfect vision to get a license or fly an aircraft. As long as the pilot’s vision is capable of being corrected using glasses or contact lenses, they are able to fly any aircraft that they are licensed and certified to fly.
If you’re considering becoming a pilot, you might be worried about your less than perfect vision preventing you from being able to. But we want to allay those fears for you. So in this article, you’ll learn about whether pilots need perfect vision or not, what type of corrective lenses are allowed for pilots, and how often pilots need to have their vision checked.
When you’re trying to figure out whether or not something can potentially prevent you from being a pilot, such as not having perfect vision, the most important thing to you is accurate information. And it’s the same way for us. To make sure we offer the most accurate information possible, we’ve discussed the issues of vision with pilots all over as well as combed through federal guidance to figure out everything you read below.
Do Pilots Have To Have Perfect Vision?
When pilots are flying an aircraft, especially a passenger jet, they’re responsible not only for all of the people on board but also for the millions of dollars worth of equipment and machinery. So it is fair to assume that they need to be in peak mental shape so that they’re able to see, process, and react to any adverse conditions that they face during flight.
One of the keywords in that last sentence above is see. If a pilot can’t see clearly, whether they’re looking outside the aircraft or their eyes are flitting from instrument panel to instrument panel, they won’t be able to react as needed. So that’s gotta be one of the qualifications of becoming a pilot, right? Pilots have to have perfect vision.
Actually, the answer is no. Many people get the idea that pilots have to have perfect vision because there is this strange stigma out there that military pilots get rejected for having less than perfect vision. Not only do military requirements not apply to commercial or private pilots, but the truth is that no pilots are required to have perfect vision. As long as the vision can be corrected, then a person will not be denied licensure based on their vision.
Can Pilots Wear Glasses And Contacts?
Not only can pilots wear corrective lenses such as glasses and contacts if they have less than perfect vision, doing so is actually required under the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR). The FAR requires that all pilots wear corrective lenses if their vision is anything worse than 20/20. The lenses must correct refractive errors in the pilot’s vision to bring their vision to at least 20/20 or better.
So if you’re someone that needs to wear glasses or contacts for any refractive errors in your vision, don’t fret! As long as the vision is correctable and can provide you with 20/20 vision or better, glasses or contacts are completely acceptable. With nearly 75% of the population requiring glasses or contacts to correct their vision, chances are good that at least one pilot on any given flight will be wearing them while flying!
The one main caveat to wearing glasses or contacts as a pilot comes in the form of monovision contact lenses (or glasses). This type of vision correction is when one lens is prescribed to correct near-sightedness and the other is prescribed to correct far-sightedness. Since this typically has a negative effect on the wearer’s binocular vision, these lenses are not allowed to be used by pilots under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
What Happens If A Pilot Has An Issue With Their Glasses Or Contacts During Flight?
For anyone that wears contacts or glasses, you know mishaps can happen all the time. You could drop your glasses and they end up cracking or getting stepped on. Or maybe you can have your contact rip or come out while you’re rubbing your eye and then you’re stuck with one blurry eye. So how do pilots prepare for this and what happens if there’s an issue mid-flight?
To help alleviate the chance of an issue like this potentially incapacitating a pilot and reducing their ability to fly the aircraft, the FAA stepped in. The FAA recommends that all pilots who wear corrective lenses bring an extra pair of glasses or contacts along on each flight just in case something does happen. At the moment, this is still a recommendation, however, so pilots are not required to do so.
If a pilot has an issue with their glasses or contacts while flying and they don’t have an extra pair with them, it can get a bit tricky. If this were to happen, flying responsibility would automatically default to the other pilot on board. So if the Captain was having the issue, the First Officer would take over. If the First Officer couldn’t see, the Captain would take full control. For this reason, we concur with the FAA and recommend having a set pair of lenses!
What Are The Vision Requirements For Becoming A Pilot?
As you read above, the biggest requirement that pilots must meet in terms of vision to obtain and keep their license and ability to fly is to have 20/20 vision. This can of course be with or without corrective lenses as you now know. But although that’s the biggest requirement that needs to be met, it isn’t the only thing that pilots need to keep in mind with regards to their vision.
Here are the major vision requirements that pilots need to meet under the guidance of the FAA:
- The vision in each eye needs to be 20/20 separately, not just the full binocular vision of the pilot using both eyes
- Near-sighted pilots (those that struggle to see distant objects clearly) are required to wear corrective lenses at all times during the flight
- Far-sighted pilots (those that use reading glasses, for example) are required to have corrective lenses on hand in case they’re ever needed
- Pilots that develop cataracts and whose vision does not correct to 20/20 must have a surgical procedure to repair the cataract and obtain 20/20 vision before they’re certified to fly again
As you can see, the vision requirements for pilots are not as strict as you might have imagined. It’s mainly just having 20/20 vision, whether that’s corrected or not. Military pilots typically have more strict guidelines than what you see here (and they also vary from branch to branch) because these guidelines are only for private and commercial pilots under the guidance of the FAA.
So if you have to wear contacts or glasses to correct your vision and you were worried that you might automatically be disqualified from becoming a pilot, don’t worry! Just make sure you regularly get your vision checked (at once annually) and you’ll be good to go.