Vision and Aviation: Consider LASIK for Pilots

July 9, 2021

There are few occupations with vision requirements as stringent as those in aviation. It’s important that pilots have crisp and clear eyesight to navigate changing and sometimes challenging conditions. Do pilots need perfect vision? No, but if they don’t, they’ll need adequate vision correction. Although glasses and contact lenses are certainly options for this, pilot laser eye surgery can be an attractive alternative. LASIK surgery for pilots allows for freedom from glasses and contact lenses. There is no fear of losing or breaking glasses or problems with contact lens dryness and discomfort. The aviator’s eyes are always corrected for optimal vision. Not only is clear vision desirable, but it is also necessary. That’s because there are strict eye vision requirements for pilots.

Pilot Vision Requirements

The pilot license vision requirements vary depending on the specific capacity in which they work.

Military Pilot Vision Requirements

Military Pilot Vision Requirements

What vision do you need to be a military pilot? That varies, depending on the branch.

Air Force Pilot Vision Requirements

What are the vision requirements for air force pilots?

  • Normal color vision
  • Uncorrected near visual acuity of 20/30 or better
  • Uncorrected distance visual acuity of no worse than 20/70 in each eye
  • Corrected distance visual acuity of 20/20 or better
  • Other requirements pertaining to refraction, accommodation, and astigmatism

Can air force pilots have LASIK? The air force website states that corrective surgery can disqualify applicants for certain roles; however, air force pilot LASIK has been permissible since 2007.

Navy & Marine Corps Pilot Vision Requirements

Do fighter pilots need perfect vision? No, they just need to meet the relevant standards.

The navy pilot vision requirements are as follows:

  • Uncorrected distance visual acuity of 20/100-20/400 or better in each eye, depending on the service class
  • Corrected distance visual acuity of 20/20 or better in each eye
  • Corrected near visual acuity of 20/20 or better in each eye
  • Anisometropia must not exceed 3.50 Diopters in any meridian
  • Normal oculomotor balance, field of vision, color vision, depth perception, and intraocular pressure

Navy pilot LASIK is permissible through a waiver.

The marine corps vision requirements are as follows:

  • Uncorrected distance visual acuity of 20/200 or better in each eye
  • Corrected distance visual acuity of 20/20 or better in each eye
  • Corrected near visual acuity of 20/20 or better in each eye
  • Limitations on type and strength of glasses prescription
  • Normal field of vision, color vision, and depth perception

It can be easier to meet the marine pilot vision requirements without a glasses prescription due to the limitations in place on the type and strength of spectacle correction.

Army (Helicopter) Pilot Vision Requirements

In order to enter Army Helicopter Flight Training, the following Army pilot vision requirements must be met:

  • Uncorrected visual acuity of 20/50 or better in each eye
  • Corrected visual acuity of 20/20 or better in each eye
  • Normal field of vision, color vision and depth perception

After training, the helicopter pilot vision requirements specify that eyesight cannot degrade beyond 20/400 without correction. The corrected visual acuity must remain 20/20.

Army aviation LASIK is one way to meet the vision requirements. If vision degrades beyond 20/400 without correction, army helicopter pilot LASIK eye surgery can be used to remain in the service.

Civilian Pilot Eyesight Requirements

Civilian Pilot Eyesight Requirements

While civilian pilots are not subject to military restrictions, they have their own set of guidelines to ensure they meet the vision safety standards.

Vision Requirements for Airline Pilot

  • Distance visual acuity of 20/20 or better in each eye, with or without correction
  • Intermediate visual acuity of 20/40 or better in each eye, with or without correction
  • Near visual acuity of 20/40 or better in each eye, with or without correction
  • Satisfactory color vision

It’s common to see airline pilots getting LASIK, as they can easily meet these requirements after surgery without correction. LASIK for airline pilots can allow for freedom from glasses and contact lenses.

Commercial Pilot Vision Requirements

Do commercial pilots need perfect vision? No. Commercial pilot vision requirements are identical to those for airline pilots.

Private Pilot Vision Requirements

Private pilot license vision requirements differ slightly from those of commercial or airline pilots. They are slightly less stringent, as described below:

  • Distance visual acuity of 20/40 or better in each eye, with or without correction
  • Near visual acuity of 20/40 or better in each eye, with or without correction
  • Satisfactory color vision

Pilots LASIK Eye Surgery Qualifications

Pilots LASIK Eye Surgery Qualifications

Can pilots get LASIK? Of course! In fact, they make some of the best candidates. As you’ve seen, pilot eyesight requirements often include uncorrected vision stipulations. For those with a substantial glasses prescription, LASIK eye surgery for pilots may be the only way to meet these stipulations.

Even for those who have uncorrected vision that meets the requirements, LASIK for pilots offers them freedom from glasses and contact lenses. Crisp, clear vision is with the aviator at all times.

In order to qualify for refractive surgery, the following stipulations must be met:

  • Good general health
  • Ocular maturity (generally 18 years of age)
  • Glasses prescription stability of at least two years
  • Free of eye infection, injury, or disease
  • Sufficient corneal thickness

After the Laser Eye Surgery

Recovery Time LASIK Pilots

LASIK offers incredibly quick visual recovery. Many people are stunned by how fast their eyesight improves following surgery.

Recovery Time

After refractive surgery, you’ll be instructed to sleep 4-6 hours upon arriving home. This allows the surface of your eyes to recover without the disruption of constant blinking. You may experience some blur and discomfort but by the next day, you will have a highly functioning vision. We will need to see you the following day to ensure that everything is healing well. Patients can return to most of their normal day to day activities within 24 hours of their surgeries. Follow-up visits from that point on vary, depending on progress.

While LASIK recovery time for pilots is very quick, the military may require a period of waiting before returning to full duty. The wait time for LASIK military pilots varies by branch.

Possible Risks

As with any surgery, LASIK carries a slight risk of infection. Although exceedingly rare,  you will be given antibiotic eye drops to help minimize the likelihood of developing an infection. After LASIK, it is normal to experience dryness, discomfort, and redness of the eyes during the initial healing period. A very small percentage of patients may experience visual fluctuations which require an enhancement procedure. In addition, it is quite normal to experience halos, starburst, and glare. These symptoms often get better with time as your eyes continue to heal.

Conclusion

It’s easy to see how vision and aviation go hand in hand. LASIK gives pilots the freedom to fly without the additional burden of wearing glasses or contact lenses. Not only does refractive surgery enable the achievement of vision requirements, but it also makes flying easier! Contact us for your no cost, no obligation, consultation today.

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Dr. Colman R. Kraff

Committed to advancing new technologies in the field of ophthalmology, Dr. Colman Kraff helped to pioneer laser vision correction. In February of 1991, as part of a five-site, U.S., FDA clinical trial team, Dr. Kraff successfully performed the first excimer laser procedures in the Chicagoland area using the VISX Excimer Laser.

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