NAS (National Airspace System) Human Factors Safety Research Laboratory
Develop new practical color vision tests for ATCS applicants
Tom Chidester, Ph.D. (PDF)
Color is increasingly used in Air Traffic displays to communicate information for critical tasks. About 5% of population (8% men and 1% of women) suffer some degree of color vision deficiency. Air Traffic Control Specialists (ATCSs) must have adequate color vision to safely operate current ATC technologies. That is, they must have the ability to discern critical information coded in color on critical displays. Clinical tests diagnose presence or absence of a deficiency, and some quantify deficiency, but clinical tests do not tell us whether someone with a deficiency can or can�t do the job! So we must have occupationally-validated tests. Previous occupational tests measured the minimal color palette deployed for ATCS duties, mostly aircraft lights and colors on flight strips, but the displays and environment have changed.
A team of researchers at CAMI and headquarters set out to develop a new occupational test in 2006 and deployed a final version, the Air Traffic Color Vision Test (ATCOV) in 2009. Applicants for ATCS positions who fail a clinical color vision test are now given the ATCOV in a Regional Flight Surgeon or Medical Field Office. Applicants who pass the ATCOV are able to discriminate among critical radar datablock types and weather intensities, to recognize and respond to conflict alerts within critical time constraints, and to discriminate among different categories of conflict alerts on planning tools. Therefore, color vision deficient applicants who pass the ATCOV are not screened out unnecessarily.