Are you wondering – can pilots wear glasses? In this post we’ll go through the main things you need to bear in mind if you wear glasses and are wondering what the requirements are to become a pilot.
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Can you wear glasses and become a commercial pilot?
Yes, according to the UK Civil Aviation Authority, commercial airline pilots can wear glasses but there are various criteria that pilots must follow.
The CAA recommends that a pilot should select glasses that are well-fitting and comfortable in order to minimise potential distractions to the pilot. The sides of the glasses also need to be strong, so they do not snap when the pilot puts on their emergency oxygen mask.
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Pilots with presbyopia should wear reading glasses in a ½ eye (look-over) style frame. Presbyopia is the condition where a person’s ability to focus on near objects becomes impaired due to age.
The CAA also says that full frame reading glasses are not allowed and should not be used in the cockpit. If a pilot prefers full frame over ½ eye frame glasses, then the pilot should use multifocal lenses instead.
Multifocal lenses are lenses that don’t have a distinct line across the middle of the lens which means the individual has clear vision across a large range of distances. In order to save weight and improve overall safety, the CAA also recommends purchasing glasses with plastic lenses instead of glass lenses.
Lastly, pilots are also advised to buy lenses with a hard and anti-reflective coating and to make sure the lenses are non-polarised (UK Civil Aviation Authority 2021). It is also very important to keep a secondary pair of glasses in your flight bag just in case you forget or lose your primary pair of glasses.
What eyesight is required for pilot?
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) recommends that anyone who aspires to become a commercial pilot must have good vision before applying to become an airline pilot.
1. An applicant may be assessed as fit with hypermetropia (explainer: this is long-sightedness, the condition whereby close objects appear blurred) not exceeding +5.0 dioptres (explainer: a dioptre is a unit of measurement of the refractive or optical power of a lens.
In other words, its ability to bend light passing through it), myopia (explainer: this is short-sightedness, which is the condition that causes distant objects to appear blurred) not exceeding -6.0 dioptres, astigmatism (explainer: this is when light is focused at more than one point in the eye) not exceeding 2.0 dioptres, and anisometropia (explainer: this is when eyes have different refractive power) not exceeding 2.0 dioptres, provided that optimal correction has been considered and no significant pathology is demonstrated.
Do you need 20/20 vision to be a commercial pilot?
Monocular visual acuities should be 6/6 (you may have heard this referred to as 20/20 when expressed in feet, as opposed to metres) or better.
Distant visual acuity, with or without correction, shall be 6/9 or better monocularly, and 6/6 or better binocularly.’ (UK CAA Eye examination form MED.B.070. 2021).
If an applicant does not meet these initial requirements set out by the CAA, then they need to be referred to the licensing authority who can then allow them to be reviewed by an ophthalmologist.
An ophthalmologist is a medical specialist concerned with the study and treatment of disorders and diseases of the eye.
After an applicant has been examined by the specialist, a fitness assessment may be considered again by the licensing authority.
If an applicant does pass the assessment, then they will need to be examined by an ophthalmologist every 5 years up until their 40th birthday. Afterwards, they will need to be reviewed every 2 years because eyes deteriorate faster at that age (FlightDeckFriend.com, 2021).
Can you wear contact lenses as a pilot?
Yes, UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations state that contact lenses may be worn if a pilot’s hypermetropia exceeds +5.00 dioptres or anisometropia exceeds 3.00 dioptres.
In addition to this, EU law also dictates that “if contact lenses are worn when exercising the privileges of the applicable licence(s), they shall be for distant vision, monofocal, non-tinted and well-tolerated and Orthokeratological lenses (these are contact lenses worn at night that temporarily reshape the cornea) shall not be used”.
Before a pilot enters a cockpit, they must first make sure that they have worn the contact lenses for at least 8 hours a day for 5 days a week for at least 30 days.
This is to make sure that the contact lenses do not impact a pilot’s overall vision, comfort or eye health when flying an aircraft. Contact lenses do have some advantages over glasses when it comes to flying.
A pilot’s overall visual field is increased with contact lenses because there are no metal frames obstructing a pilot’s view (UK Civil Aviation Authority, 2021).
Can I be an airforce pilot if I wear glasses?
No, unfortunately the Royal Air Force is very picky when it comes to selection.
According to RAF recruitment, you cannot join the RAF as a pilot or aircrew if you wear glasses. The RAF requires all potential pilots to have perfect 20/20 vision when they join.
If you want to join and you wear glasses, you will, unfortunately, have to get corrective surgery such as laser eye surgery to achieve perfect 20/20 vision.
The only time the RAF will allow its aircrew or pilots to wear glasses, is if their vision deteriorates from 20/20 while they are serving in active duty (RAF-Recruitment 2021).
Can Airline and Airforce pilots wear glasses or contact lenses in the USA?
Yes, like the UK, airline pilots can also wear glasses or contacts while flying in the USA. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), commercial airline pilots with refractive errors that affect their distance vision must wear high quality, prescription glasses or contact lenses that correct their vision to 20/20.
If a pilot has presbyopia, then they should wear multifocal lenses. To make sure pilots always have good vision in the cockpit, a backup pair of glasses should always be carried by a pilot who requires glasses or contact lenses for 20/20 vision.
The FAA also states that monovision contact lenses, which have one contact lens prescribed for distant vision and the other prescribed lens for near vision, are not acceptable for pilots to wear in the cockpit.
This is because monovision contact lenses can impair binocular vision and depth perception which is vitally important to have when flying a commercial aircraft (Can Pilots Wear Glasses? 2021).
If we missed anything or you have any questions, please leave a comment in the section below. We would love to hear from you!
Kudzi Chikohora is a B737 pilot with around 2,000 hours flying in Europe. He holds a masters degree in Aerospace Engineering and is a chartered engineer and a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Kudzi completed his pilot training via the self funded modular pilot training route and created kcthepilot.com to share pilot training and aviation content.