Tag Archives: Dr Arthur Pape

Fifty shades of red and green – Opinion

What on earth is the problem that Dr Navathe and CASA are expending so much energy trying to solve? It certainly has the close attention of hundreds of Australian pilots as yet another of their number, John O’Brien, prepares to confront CASA’s massive publicly funded legal firepower in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in a hearing set down for July 21. The case is scheduled to run for two weeks, and sources close to the matter believe CASA has about a dozen expert witnesses (mostly optometrists) from all over the world and, we’ve been told, has engaged Ian Harvey QC, to parade them before the AAT to convince the Tribunal that aeroplanes will start plummeting out of the sky because some of their pilots, in common with around 8% of the world’s male population, have some degree of colour vision deficiency (CVD). CASA lawyer Joseph Rule told a recent Senate Estimates hearing that CASA’s costs for this extravaganza had already reached about $43,000, and when pushed a bit more by Senator Fawcett he also admitted to that “It would not be out of the realms of possibility to accumulate another $40,000 in costs.” Is there $83,000 worth of demonstrably enhanced safety in there somewhere? Other (usually reliable) sources reckon CASA’s ultimate total costs of running the O’Brien case could stack up to somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 – not counting John O’Brien’s costs of course, and they’re wondering out loud whether all those dollars might not be better spent scouring global accident history for events that have any statistical link at all with CVD. Aha! It seems there’s a new development that can maybe shine a little more light into those dark corners. One of Dr Navathe’s colleagues, Mr Peter Fereday at the CASA “Permissions Centre”, wrote to all AOC holders on June 05 that:

Recent medical research indicates that the safety-related implications of an individual’s CVD may be more significant than they were initially considered to be.

And the following day in a similar letter he told all CVD-affected pilots about the same “recent medical research.” Our curiosity aroused, we asked CASA’s redoubtable spokesperson Peter Gibson…….

Could CASA please direct me to the references to the original medical research papers that present the evidence referred to in the first and third paragraphs of the attached letter? [That’s Mr Fereday’s letter to AOC holders about CVD.]

…… and after only six days of probing, good old reliable PG bounced right back:

  • The recent medical research mentioned by CASA in its letter to AOC holders of 5 June 2014 refers to the research described in an article by Dougal B Watson, principal medical officer of the New Zealand CAA [and Dr Navathe’s former boss in NZ], appearing in the February 2014 issue of the Journal of Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine.
  • In May 2014, an article appeared in the magazine Aerosafety World, published by the Flight Safety Foundation, summarising Dr Watson’s research on inconsistencies in the assessment of pilots with CVD.

Enlightenment at last? Afraid not. It transpires that the article is only available to super-rich people who can afford to commit US$30 (and their credit card details) to a little-known offshore organisation, especially before checking product quality. However as we were coming to grips with this formidable challenge to astute journalism, a copy of Dr Watson’s treatise fell off the back of a passing truck, and we were back in business. Or so we thought. But a careful perusal of the document, tantalisingly titled Lack of lnternational Uniformity in Assessing Color [sic] Vision Deficiency in Professional Pilots, quickly convinced us we must have the wrong bit of paper. A note attached to the article off the truck had warned:

Take a gander at this rubbish. This [Dr Watson’s treatise] is not evidence of anything of any consequence in this entire debate. Indeed, it is evidence of what a mess the aviation colour perception standard is in worldwide. Imagine relying on this as legal evidence to impress a judge just how dangerous colour vision defective pilots are!

A bit harsh? Well not really. If I were Mr Fereday (or Peter Gibson) I’d be quietly seeking a second opinion before I passed on anything originating from the source of those assertions. Let’s remind ourselves: Recent medical research indicates that the safety-related implications of an individual’s CVD may be more significant than they were initially considered to be.” Can CASA point out any recent research presented in the Watson article that indicates anything of the sort? As anybody familiar with the debate would observe, the Watson prose is packed with subjective assertions, mind-numbing statistics, tables and flow charts that are in no way relevant to the “safety-related implications of an individual’s CVD”. In fact they don’t depict any safety-relevant medical research, and are in bad English, exacerbated by American spelling. The reason Watson doesn’t refer to relevant accident statistics (because there aren’t any) and his article comes up with just two not quite earth-shattering assertions that actually admit in its two listed findings:

“The main conclusions from this research are that:

  • There is a high degree of variation between States in the detection and medical assessment of CVD applicants; and
  • The observed variation stems not from the wording of the medical standards of the States, but from the application of those standards.

So 190 separate states have all figured out different but similar satisfactory ways of managing the same issue, right? Furthermore Dr Watson’s research actually refers to:

  • the paucity of documented aircraft accidents or incidents where CVD is implicated as a contributory factor.” [Because there are none]. And states that:
  • It is beyond the scope of this report to analyze [analyse] the issues and the debates concerning CV standards and civil aviation”.

So! Dud information has been unintentionally passed back to us via CASA PR? We haven’t yet seen any AOC-holder response to Mr Fereday’s June 5 letter, but its next-day follow-up to pilots has already caused at least one pilot body to reach for its keyboard and mouse. The Australian Federation of Air Pilots has directed a sharp response from its President Capt Bryan Murray to current CASA CEO John McCormick:

Dear Mr McCormick,

Re: Colour Vision Deficiency (CVD)

I am writing on behalf of the AFAP to express our concern over the letter dated 5 June 2014 from Peter Fereday to AOC holders regarding Colour Vision Deficiency (CVD).

The AFAP believes it is unreasonable and inappropriate that CASA is asking companies or the affected pilots to make assessments about their ability to hold a medical certificate. CASA issued the medical certificates in question and the affected pilots have been operating under these certificates in good faith.

AOC holders and the pilots themselves are not privy to the “recent medical research” to which CASA refers in its letter nor are they medically qualified to make the assessment requested. If CASA wish to change the regulations regarding colour vision then CASA should follow the correct and established processes. CASA’s letter of 5 June 2014 is in our view an abuse of process.

We request that CASA formally retract the letter of 5 June 2014.

Please also be aware that we will be supporting any of our members who are unfairly discriminated against as a result of CASA’s letter.

Meanwhile nowhere has CASA attempted to express in cost benefit terms, the safety benefits its proposed actions would deliver. So what is the problem to which all that public expense is supposed to be the answer? Where’s the history? Where are all the accidents that are linked to CVD pilots? Although there isn’t any such history, there’s plenty that covers related legal activity. In October 1987 the AAT reviewed a negative decision by the (then) Civil Aviation Authority that had been made in respect of Dr Arthur Pape, a licensed pilot, medical practitioner and DAME, and recognised as a world expert on colour deficiency in aviation. However the AAT decision was only in respect of Dr Pape’s private pilot licence, and imposed restrictions related to aircraft equipment, night flying, maximum takeoff weight and cruising speed, but and weather conditions. 18 months later in April 1989 the Tribunal heard another application by a CVD pilot, this one from commercial pilot Hugh Denison, a young colour defective pilot who had qualified for night flight in New Zealand, but who was prohibited by the CAA from night flight in Australia. To quote Dr Pape, whose interest in these issues has never wavered:

“Again, the appeal succeeded and the ban on night flight was overturned for all colour defective pilots in Australia. To this date, the Denison appeal is still the most comprehensive examination of aviation colour vision standards that has ever been conducted in the entire world. The hearings lasted for over 30 days and called witnesses including experienced pilots and air traffic controllers, optometrists and visual perception psychologists to name just a few. As a direct result of the appeal’s success, many such pilots found doors opening to career opportunities that were previously denied to them”.

This AAT hearing resulted in an order that:

The decision under review is set aside and, in substitution for it, it is decided that the applicant is to be granted, under regulation 63 of the Civil Aviation Regulations, a commercial pilot licence to fly fixed wing aircraft and rotary wing aircraft, the said licence to be subject to only the following two conditions:-

(1)That he is not permitted to pilot an aircraft in international air navigation except with the permission of the appropriate authority of the country concerned;

(2) That he is not permitted to pilot aircraft within control zones unless the aircraft being flown is fitted with radio apparatus such that he can maintain two-way communication on appropriate frequencies.

In a detailed analysis of its decision, the Tribunal explained that it was running a “test case” and it also explained why: “We understand that there are a considerable number of other pilots with defective colour vision who have requested the granting of licences which do not contain a condition prohibiting their piloting aircraft at night. For that reason the respondent [CASA] indicated that it wished to conduct this case as a test case. “Mr Rose [Appearing for CASA], therefore, informed the Tribunal that the respondent intended to present its case in a manner which would encompass not only the applicant’s situation but also broader issues relating generally to defective colour vision. At the request of the respondent [CASA] the Attorney-General granted legal aid to the applicant to ensure that he was not disadvantaged by the respondent presenting his case in that manner. “The matters which we have to consider in these proceedings have consequently been extended well beyond those which the applicant [Mr Denison] originally sought to raise, that is to say whether his defective colour vision made it unsafe for him personally to pilot an aircraft at night. Costs to the various parties in the Denison case have not been identified, but the AAT discussed in great detail the whole procedure it had adopted, all of the issue-related questions asked and answered, the witnesses, areas in which there was broad agreement, types of CVD, the technologies used in assessing it, and its safety relevance in flight operations at all levels. The decision document also contains detailed analysis of every related issue discussed by witnesses and laid the foundations for about 15 years of relative truce. The ruling was accepted by all parties and has been the basis under which CVD pilots have been operating successfully until CASA resumed hostilities. The last two paragraphs of the AAT decision are relevant to Mr O’Brien’s case:.

78. We recommend that suitable practical tests should be devised so that a protan [Mr O’Brien’s condition] can be tested individually, if he wishes, at his own expense to ascertain the extent of the loss of his ability to perceive the intensity of red lights. If his distant visual acuity is such that, when allowance is made for the loss of ability to perceive the intensity of red lights, he is able to see red lights at the furthest distance that they can be seen by persons who have normal colour vision and the distant acuity required by ANO 47.1.2.13 or ANO 47.1.3.13, as appropriate to the type of licence sought, a licence should be granted to him under regulation 63 subject to only the two conditions referred to above. If a change in his visual acuity is detected thereafter in the course of any routine medical examination, he should be required to undergo the practical test again. Otherwise a licence granted to a protan under regulation 63 should be subject to the additional condition that the pilot does not fly an aircraft at night.

79. Finally, while recognising that the Tribunal has no power to review decisions of the Authority to set medical standards under regulation 62, we suggest that protanomals ought not to be totally prevented, as they are at present, from meeting the colour vision standard. It appears from Dr Samuel’s evidence that some persons with mild protanomaly are able to perceive the existence of red lights at a distance which is as great as, or greater than, the furthest distance at which a person with normal colour vision and distant visual acuity of 6/6 can do so. We suggest that the colour vision standard be altered so as to permit such mild protanomals to take the Farnsworth Lantern test and, if they pass it, to meet the standard and so be qualified, so far as colour vision is concerned, for the grant of an unconditional licence.

Those two paragraphs go to the heart of Mr O’Brien’s situation and that of many others who are now threatened despite thousands of hours of uneventful flight. It is completely untruthful to assert as CASA has, that there is anything in Dr Watson’s paper to suggest that individuals’ CVD pilot issues “may be more significant than they were initially considered to be.” The only thing that has changed on the CVD scene since the AAT delivered its comprehensive analysis, findings and recommendations, has been the accumulation of several million more flying hours by CVD pilots without a CVD related accident. The person or persons responsible for this attempt to wind back the clock needs to be held accountable for their actions. If CASA’s recruiting consultancy identifies a CEO candidate who meets all the key qualities it is seeking in terms of experience, critical competencies for success and other attributes, the newcomer will easily see this campaign for what it is. A return to reality on CVD issues might then be one of the many early outcomes sought by the 269 contributors to the ASRR. An important footnote We would point out that there has in fact been one case where CVD got a mention in an accident investigation; however its CV relevance is widely disputed. On July 26, 2002, a Boeing 727-238F freighter collided with trees on short final and crashed short of the runway at Tallahassee, Florida. The NTSB report said: The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause of the accident was the captain’s and first officer’s failure to establish and maintain a proper glidepath during the night visual approach to landing. “Contributing to the accident was a combination of the captain’s and first officer’s fatigue, the captain’s and first officer’s failure to adhere to company flight procedures, the captain’s and flight engineer’s failure to monitor the approach, and the first officer’s colour vision deficiency.” However the text of the NTSB report contained no supporting discussion of CVD or its role in the accident, and did not explain why both the captain and the flight engineer (who was also a pilot,) reported seeing the same displays on the PAPI as the co-pilot did.

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Colour vision deficient pilots see red

While the topic of aberrant regulatory conduct dominates the nation’s aviation dialogue, we’re wondering whether a letter from CASA to all employers of pilots might represent a practical joke, an early example of a scorched earth strategy, or an act of rebellion against the ASRR’s erudite recommendations.

We’d speculate that such a bizarre missive could hardly have originated from the aviation medics, who would be well aware that when you want to quote medical research convincingly in support of a position, you need to provide a reference to the relevant original medical research papers that present the evidence referred to. (We’ve requested that reference from CASA and are still awaiting a response.)

It also seems unlikely that the letter got the nod from CASA’s legal office, because it seems to be asking AOC holders and/or pilots to make decisions which CASA’s not prepared to make itself.

No, it’s signed by the executive in charge of CASA’s” Permissions Centre,” sometimes referred to by disenchanted permission seekers as the “Sheltered Workshop.” But what on earth it hopes to achieve is difficult to discern. It tells employers that “the possibility exists that your pilot’s CVD may be of a type and/or severity that could adversely affect aviation safety to a degree greater than was believed to be the case when the medical certificates were issued,” and then it goes on to tell their employers to make decisions they are not equipped to make because CASA simply hasn’t told them what the hell it’s on about and it doesn’t tell them what the problem is and what it considers is an “appropriate” course to take.

Here’s the letter which all AOC holders received on June 5. We follow it with a commentary by Dr Arthur Pape, who is widely acknowledged as Australia’s leading expert on the issue of colour vision deficiency (CVD).

If you’re bewildered by the letter, you’ll find Dr Pape’s analysis enlightening by comparison, and indicative of a clear way forward for any responsible medical official seeking to develop intelligent and effective policies on this not-so-complex issue.

5 June 2014

Dear AOC holder,

Colour Vision Deficiency

I am writing to inform you of actions the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has taken in relation to pilots with a recognised colour vision deficiency (CVD) in the light of recent medical research involving the assessment of CVD, and the possible implications of these developments for affected pilots and the operators who employ them.

A number of pilots have taken their medical certificates issued subject to a limiting condition because they do not meet the applicable medical standard for colour perception specified in the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (CASR). You may employ one or more pilots whose medical certificates are subject to such a condition.

Recent medical research indicates that the safety-related implications of an individual’s CVD may be more significant than they were initially considered to be, and the possibility exists that your pilots CVD may be of a type and/or severity that could adversely affect aviation safety to a degree greater than was believed to be the case when the medical certificates were issued. CASA is reviewing the situation and will consider what further action, if any, may need to be taken on the basis of that review, at which time affected medical certificate holders will be notified accordingly.

In the meantime, CASA has written to all potentially affected pilots advising them to consider whether it is safe for them to continue to exercise their flight crew privileges subject only to the existing CVD-related condition, and encouraging them to seek the advice of their personal physician or designated aviation medical examiner about any adjustments that should be made to their flying practices, pending the outcome of CASA’s review.

As I told recipients of that advice I would be doing, I write to you now, as the holder of an air operator’s certificate (AOC) who may employ one or more affected pilots, to encourage you to consider whether it is safe to allow those pilots to continue to exercise flight crew privileges under your AOC, subject only to the existing condition, and what adjustments to those arrangements you may consider to be appropriate, in the interests of safety, pending CASA’s further determination of the matter.

For more information visit CASA’s website at:

http://www.casa.gov.au/scripts/nc.dll?WCMS:STANDARD::pc=PC_91593.

For further details, please contact Dr Pooshan Navathe, principal medical officer, on 131757. Yours sincerely,

 

Peter Fereday

Executive Manager, Industry Permissions

Enlightenment from Dr Arthur Pape

The Aviation Colour Perception Standard[i] (ACPS), as specified by ICAO and replicated by practically all signatory states, requires that: “The applicant shall be required to demonstrate the ability to perceive readily those colours the perception of which is necessary for the safe performance of duties.”

At its philosophical/scientific core, this so-called “standard” represents a conclusion (or argument) based on three implicit assumptions, as follows:

Assumption 1

There is extensive use of colour-coded information in the aviation environment.

Assumption 2

The “safe performance of duties” in the aviation environment is dependent on “the ability to perceive readily those colours necessary etc etc……..”.

Assumption 3

Without ‘the ability to perceive readily those colours, the perception of which is necessary for the safe performance of duties”, these duties will be performed unsafely.

Discussion

The validity or “truth” of the ACPS relies entirely on the validity or “truth” of each of the three assumptions. In turn, the validity or “truth” of each of the assumptions relies on evidence, as opposed to opinion and/or established prejudice.

Let’s consider the first assumption. At the dawn of aviation, over a hundred years ago, colour coding was used solely in the form of signalling by means of coloured flags or lights, as the means of communication between people on the ground and in the air. It was suggested that people who could not readily perceive the colours of those signals might perform their duties “unsafely”, and that suggestion, under the circumstances of the day, would have had some merit. Out of this there arose the ACPS, whose wording has changed little from those heady days of cloth covered aeroplanes and simple instructions to pilots using simple coloured objects in a simple “code”.

Since then there has been an exponential increase in the use of colour throughout the aviation environment, both in the aviation physical environment and in and on aeroplanes. The list of uses of colour is enormous, and the validity of the first assumption is self-evident to anyone with even a minimal knowledge of the aviation environment.

Result: Assumption 1 is “True”.

Assumption 2 is, however, problematic. For this assumption to be valid, it needs to be demonstrated that the perception of the colour(s) is sufficient and necessary to see the information that is required for the “safe performance of duties”. In other words, “see the colour” equals “see the information”, which results in “safe performance of duties”. This assumption could be tested empirically, but this type of work has never been done in respect to the aviation environment.

Result: Assumption 2 remains an unproven assumption

To paraphrase assumption 3, would go like this: “see no (or different) colour” equals “see no (or wrong) information” which results in “unsafe performance”. To digress briefly, let me state that the existence of individuals with colour vision deficiencies (CVD) is a proven reality. That 8 to 9 percent of the male population and just less than 1 percent of the female population have one or other of the various types of CVD is beyond any doubt. Further, there are numerous reliable and proven tests available to detect and classify the severity of any particular CVD condition. Let me add also that the CAD test is an excellent test to diagnose and quantify CVD conditions.

So, in short, the ACPS, via the implicit Assumption 3 would predict that people with CVD should perform the duties (involved in flying an aeroplane) unsafely. This proposition could be tested empirically (i.e., by measurement, observation and analysis). No formal empirical testing of assumption 3 has ever been conducted.

Result: Assumption 3 is also problematic.

It is a fact that pilots with CVD have been around for a very long time and in considerable numbers. For almost a century, the FAA has applied a wide variety of colour vision tests and practical tests, whereby tens of thousands of CVD pilots either passed the ACPS or were granted waivers against the standard. Since 1989, a few thousand Australian CVD pilots have enjoyed the freedom to fly at night and many hundreds have achieved successful careers in airline operations. If Assumption 3 were “true” one would expect there to be evidence of “unsafe performance of duties” by these pilots. This should be particularly evident in the incident and accident records kept by the aviation authorities of the USA and Australia. A landmark study in the mid 1970s by two researchers (Dille and Booze) working for the FAA examined the accident records of the large group of CVD pilots with a “waiver” and found not even one accident where the existence of a colour vision defect could have contributed to the cause. Furthermore, the accident rate for this group was no different than that of the general pilot population (accidents per 100,000 hrs of recent experience). Until 2002, the FAA had no record of any accident attributed to CVD, and since 2002 there have been none. The significance of 2002 is that in that year a Fedex B727 crashed while on a PAPI-guided night visual approach, and the CVD status of the flying FO was attributed a causal role in the crash. However, two other crew had normal colour vision and also did not see what the PAPI should have been showing them. The relationship between this crash and the significance of CVD is highly contentious. The ATSB and CASA have admitted they have no record of any accident attributed to CVD.

The Australian experience since the Denison case in 1989 has provided excellent positive evidence against the “truth” of Assumption 3. There are estimated to have been several thousand CVD pilots operating with either no restriction or minimal restriction in the period in question, and a significant number at the highest level of airline operations. I can say with confidence that we have examples of even the most severe kinds of CVD working as captains and FOs on the full range of airline type aircraft. These pilots are surveilled, trained, tested and examined in exactly the same way that pilots with normal colour vision are handled. They pass and keep on meeting all requirements “necessary” for the “safe performance of their duties”, and these assessments are made by duly qualified examiners of airmen, as opposed to aviation medical doctors or optometrists. This is taken by many informed commentators as evidence that Assumption 3 is “false”, and raises the question as to whether the ACPS serves any useful role in modern aviation.

It is abundantly evident that the appeal by John O’Brien [A pilot with CVD] and the unprecedented interrogation of CASA on this topic in the Australian Senate has triggered a tsunami of hysterical and irrational activity within CASA. It is my view that CASA’s actions and the responses by the Director and the Principal Medical Officer to the Senate Estimates Hearings reflect an absurd and indefensible position. Claims of “medical evidence” by both in support of their stance cannot be substantiated because such evidence does not exist.

There is no “rocket science” in any aspect of this saga.



 

 

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