Colour Vision Defective Pilots Association

Dr Arthur Pape's Story

My name is Arthur Pape.  I am a Dutch-born Australian and graduated in Medicine in Melbourne, Australia in 1969.  My flying career began in 1977 and I gained the Australian Commercial Pilot Licence with Multi Engine Command Instrument Rating.  At time of writing, I have approximately 1500 hours total aeronautical experience.  I am a General Practitioner in Geelong, Victoria and I am also a Designated Aviation Medical Examiner for the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority. 

I have defective colour vision.  My type of colour vision deficiency is known as ‘Deuteranopia.’  I was vaguely aware of this as a child, but I became more formally aware as a medical student.  There were some parts of the course that posed some problems, such as histology.

In 1977, I started my inquiries into the aviation colour perception standard.  When first licensed, I was prohibited from flying aircraft at night because of my colour vision deficiency.  The reason given was that aircraft were fitted with coloured navigation lights that assisted pilots in determining collision risk and that therefore individuals who could not reliably identify those lights represented a risk that justified their exclusion from the activity.  Later, many more reasons were added, which are explained elsewhere on this site.

In due course, I had opportunities to observe all of these uses of colour in aviation and I became aware of a disparity between what I knew I could perceive and what I was told I shouldn't be able to see.  The colour perception standard became a major focus of mine from then on.  What was it and what was it designed to achieve?  On what scientific foundation was it built?  Were there experiments or scientific studies that gave the standard scientific validity?  These and many more questions occupied me for some ten years.  All the while my knowledge of and experience in aviation was growing.  I had access to sophisticated simulators where I was able to use the wonderful Electronic Flight Instrumentation System (EFIS) equipment of the B767.  I flew in the real thing observing everything from the ‘jump seat.’  I knew what the pilots were required to derive from this equipment and I had no trouble in deriving the same information and in exactly the same manner.

Simultaneously, I read the scientific stuff by the box full.  The inconsistencies between the theory on which the colour perception standard was supposedly based and my personal observations and analyses became ever clearer.

My observations included other aircraft and lit obstructions in the night flying environment such as runways, taxiways, thresholds, holding points and tower signal guns.  All of these examples were supposed to be a problem for me, but they simply weren't and they further reinforced my growing suspicion that my colour vision defect was likely irrelevant.  However, the conviction I had was still largely intuitive.

A major turning point came to me fortuitously when I met the then newly appointed Professor of Psychology at Deakin University, Professor Boris Crassini.  He listened patiently to my concerns about the standard and about the scientific projects that were claimed to validate the standard.  Boris was a perception scientist, with his major interest being visual perception.  He was able to confirm most of my suspicions and in due course he became a major inspiration.  Through him and his colleague, Dr Patrick Flanagan, I came to understand much about perception and about the philosophy of science.  Perhaps the most valuable lesson he gave me was to accept the fact I was a colour defective and to stop claiming I could "see the colours".  This acceptance was an essential pre-requisite to the conduct of the appeals that were to follow.  Boris' and Patrick's expert testimony before the eventual Tribunal hearings were rational, unbiased, and invaluable.  Colour defectives in this country owe a great debt to them.

With growing confidence, I repeatedly put my viewpoint to the Australian regulators, to be met only with growing hostility.  When all attempts at such reasoning were exhausted, I took the matter to the courts.  I was responsible for two appeals at the Australian Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), both of which were upheld.  Having proved was I suspected all along, I finally felt vindicated!

You will find links on this website to the decision documents for both these cases.

Both before and after the appeals, in 1987 and 1988, I gave many presentations to the local Aviation Medical Society.  Additionally, I wrote many articles in the Australian Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) magazine and many of those articles are made available on this web site.

In 1996, I was sponsored by the International AOPA to attend as an observer to an International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) study group meeting in Warsaw, Poland.  The purpose of the meeting was to consider revisions of the ICAO Vision Standards, including the Colour Perception Standard.  I found sympathy there, but no interest in breaking from the long established tradition that is the Aviation Colour Perception Standard.  I learnt a lot about how ICAO ‘Standards’ are promoted and protected.

I am proud to have been a part of the revolution in the Aviation Colour Perception Standard, at least in our incredibly lucky part of the world here in Australia.  I am grateful that our legal institutions include a unique and independent entity known as the Administrative Appeals Tribunal which can be used to challenge unfair and irrational regulations and bureaucratic decision making processes.  I have not found that any such institution exists anywhere else in the world and to that end Australia is indeed very fortunate.

In the early days of this ‘campaign’ there were no computers and electric typewriters were expensive.  It was a slow and painful process.  The AOPA (Australia) magazine was an invaluable platform for me to get my articles and views publicised.

Since the 1980’s AAT decisions, it has been my dream to set up a website to take this rewarding campaign to the rest of the world.  I know there are people on every continent who would love to have what we enjoy in Australia.  With this website and your support, that possibility may come a lot sooner.  I know it is a bold move, but I am confident that if enough interest and support is forthcoming, the sky is the limit!  (The pun is intended!)