Many aspiring pilots with less than perfect eyesight often wonder if they need 20/20 vision to be a pilot.
Thankfully, not being blessed with 20/20 vision won’t disqualify you from fulfilling your dream of becoming a pilot – just as long as your eyes are correctable to 20/20.
What this means, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is that you can either wear prescription glasses or contact lenses to correct your vision. LASIK and PRK are other options too.
The FAA also recommends that you have a spare set of glasses or contact lenses with you when you fly.
If you are color blind, though, it is more challenging albeit not impossible to become a pilot.
Pilot Vision Requirements by License Type
As you are probably aware, there are first-class, second-class, and third-class medical certificates that must be acquired, according to the pilot license you want to obtain.
They have different requirements between them, particularly when it comes to vision, as well as different flight restrictions.
To become a pilot, during the vision test in an FAA medical exam, you will need to be the following requirements:
Private Pilot License (PPL)
A third-class medical certificate is required for private pilots.
For distant vision, 20/40 or better in each eye must be met, and 20/40 or better in each eye measured at 16 inches for near vision. There are no requirements for intermediate vision.
This means that you don’t need 20/20 vision to become a private pilot.
Commercial Pilot License (CPL) and Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL)
A second-class medical certificate is required for commercial pilots.
For distant vision, 20/20 must be met in each eye, and 20/40 or better in each eye, measured at 16 inches, for near vision. For intermediate vision, 20/40 or better in each eye, measured at 32 inches, must be met if you are aged 50 or older.
The same vision requirements must be met to obtain a first-class medical certificate, which is necessary to obtain an airline transport pilot license and work as an airline pilot.
Maintaining 20/20 Vision as a Pilot (Re-examination)
To make sure that your vision is always in excellent shape as you fly, re-examination is very important for pilots and something you will have to go through often in your career as a pilot.
Again, there are different requirements depending on the type of medical certificate you want to acquire and the pilot you want to be.
Third-class medical certificates expire after 36 months, though if you are 40 or older renewal is required every two years. Second-class medical certificates must be renewed every year, regardless of age. First-class medical certificates must be renewed every six months, also regardless of age.
Keep in mind that if you allow your first-class and second-class medical certificates to expire, they will be downgraded.
A second-class certificate will be downgraded to third-class. A first-class will be downgraded to second-class after six months, and then to third-class following another six months.
Why Do Pilots Need 20/20 Vision?
Good near, intermediate, and distant visual acuity is paramount for several reasons.
When it comes to VFR operations like take-off, navigation, control, and landing (not to mention avoiding mid-air collisions), excellent distant vision is non-negotiable.
Near and intermediate vision, on the other hand, are vital for checking aircraft instruments, charts, maps, and frequency settings.
To avoid putting themselves, as well their passengers and other aircraft in the vicinity at risk, stringent eyesight requirements are therefore a must for pilots.
20/20 Vision Requirements for Air Force, Military, and Helicopter Pilots
Do you have to have 20/20 vision to be a pilot in the Air Force?
If you would like to be an Air Force pilot, 20/30 vision without correction must be met for near visual acuity; 20/70 or better for distant vision acuity, though this can be correctable to 20/20; and other refraction, accommodation, and astigmatism requirements must also be met.
Do you need 20/20 vision to be a military pilot?
Other branches of the military do not have as stringent requirements as the Air Force.
If you would like to become a Navy or Marine Corps pilot, your vision must be no worse than 20/40, though this is correctable to 20/20.
If you would like to become an Army pilot, your vision must be no worse than 20/50, though this is correctable to 20/20.
Do you need 20/20 vision to be a helicopter pilot?
Regardless of whether you are flying a plane or helicopter, the same eyesight requirements apply.
This means that for a third-class certificate, 20/40 must be met for distant vision, and 20/40 measured at 16 inches for near vision.
For a second-class certificate, 20/20 must be met for distant vision, and 20/40 measured at 16 inches for near vision. If you are 50 or older, 20/40 or better, measured at 32 inches, for intermediate vision must also be met.