I get a lot of questions about the vision requirements for medicals. Basically, the requirements are 20/20 uncorrected or corrected in each eye for first and second class for distant vision. For near vision, the requirement is 20/40 uncorrected or corrected. If you are 50 or over, there is the additional requirement of 20/40 for intermediate (panel distance) uncorrected or correct. Apparently, the FAA thinks that pilots 49 or younger can always see the panel.
For third class, it is 20/40 uncorrected or corrected for far and near vision. Standard distant vision contacts are approved for distant vision for all classes and the only requirement for near or intermediate correction is to have a pair of glasses in the cockpit. There is no requirement to wear them!
Where things get complicated is with bifocal contact lenses, monovision, and other various eye problems and corrective techniques. Since there are so many variables in the vision area, always contact your AME before having surgical correction or spending money on corrective lenses to make sure you will still be legal for flying.
There is also some talk about the color vision requirements. For color blind pilots, it has been no big deal to go out with an examiner and get a green/white/red light gun test and an automatic SODA (statement of demonstrated ability). Since the advent of glass cockpits, the potential for missing information due to color blindness is worrisome. I am sure the FAA will come up with some testing mechanism in the near future for this specific problem.
The requirements can also be found on line in the Aviation Medical Examiner’s Guide (PDF download)
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 edition of Aircraft Owner Online