Even though all airline pilots are commercial pilots, not all commercial pilots are airline pilots. However, we will treat them both as the same in this article.
This is because the vision requirements are largely the same, regardless if a pilot is looking to obtain a second-class medical certificate or first-class medical certificate, which are required for a commercial pilot license or airline transport pilot license.
Eyesight Requirements (Near and Distant Vision)
The eyesight requirements for a first-class airline transport pilot and second-class commercial pilot license are identical.
Distant vision must be correctable to 20/20 or better in each eye separately. Near vision must be correctable to 20/40 or better in each eye separately, as measured at 16 inches.
Unlike a third-class medical certificate, there is also a requirement for intermediate vision, though this is only if you are aged 50 or older.
Intermediate vision must be correctable to 20/40 or better in each separately, as measured at 32 inches.
Private Pilots have some leeway with the color vision requirements set out by the FAA. Private Pilots can fail an FAA-approved color vision test and still be allowed to fly, though will have the restriction “Not valid for night flying or by color signal controls.”
This is not the case with commercial and airline pilots.
As you can imagine, not being able to fly at night or by color signal controls isn’t much use for any pilot looking to be financially compensated for flying.
Typically, a pilot will undergo a pseudoisochromatic color plate test, administered by an aviation medical examiner (AME), at the time of their FAA physical exam.
If a pilot fails this test, not all is lost.
There are other FAA-approved alternative tests a pilot can take. If these are also failed, thankfully there is another avenue in which a pilot can obtain their CPL or APT license.
An Operational Color Vision Test (OCVT) as well as a Color Vision Medical Flight Test (MFT) can be taken. The latter is an actual flight test that tests for things like being able to read and correctly interpret aviation instruments and displays, and recognizing terrain, obstructions, aeronautical, runway,and airport beacon lights, to name just a few.
If a pilot is able to pass both the OCVT and MFT tests, a Letter of Evidence will be issued that is valid for all medical certificate classes with no flying limitations.
Commercial Pilot Vision Requirements FAQs
Can Commercial Pilots Wear Glasses?
Yes, commercial pilots can wear glasses.
As long as a pilot’s distant vision is correctable to 20/20 in each eye; near vision is correctable to 20/40, measured at 16 inches in each eye; and intermediate vision is correctable to 20/40 in each eye, measured at 32 inches if aged 50 and over; glasses can be used to meet any vision requirements.
Can Commercial Pilots Wear Contact Lenses?
Yes, if contact lenses help a commercial pilot meet the vision requirements to safely operate aircraft, they can be worn.
Can Commercial Pilots Have LASIK?
Yes, commercial pilots can have LASIK as well as PRK to correct any visual deficiencies.
However, a pilot will not be allowed to fly until an eyesight specialist has determined that vision is stable, and there has been no significant complications or adverse effects after surgery.
Do Commercial Pilots Need to Carry an Extra Pair of Glasses or Contact Lenses?
There is no FAA regulation that requires pilots to carry an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses with them as they fly. However, this only applies to the United States.
If a pilot were to fly internationally or enter foreign airspace, a country’s aviation civil authorities may have different rules, and may not permit you to fly without an extra pair.
Either way, it is recommended that a commercial pilot always travels with an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses.
How Often Must a Commercial Pilot Have Their Vision Tested?
Commercial pilot vision requirements must continually be met in order for a pilot to legally and safely operate aircraft. Second-class medical certificates must be renewed every year, whereas first-class medical certificates must be renewed every six months.
One thing to note is that if a pilot does not renew their certificate it will be downgraded.
A second-class certificate will be downgraded to third-class. A first-class certificate will be downgraded to second-class after six months, and then to third-class following another six months.
Also See: Private Pilot Vision Requirements