Survey of refractive correction in Royal Air Force Aircrew

3 May 2004
Volume 05, Issue 2

Looking at the problems with air contact lens and corrective flying spectacles use by aircrew .


Refractive problems in aviators have serious implications as a relatively minor visual disability can result in loss of life and aircraft. Our aim was to examine the prevalence of contact lens (CL) and corrective flying spectacles (CFS) use by Royal Air Force (RAF) aircrew for flying and the problems linked to these forms of refractive correction. Aircrew experience of comfort, in-flight performance or problems associated with CFS and CL was subjectively assessed. CFS wearers were asked if they had experienced any flight safety hazards relating to their refractive correction. A retrospective anonymous questionnaire survey of all 1200 aircrew graded as requiring CFS or CL for flying was administered. The response rate was 60% (716 replies). A distance correction was worn by 72% and multifocals by 18%. A significant CFS problem was reported by 97.5%, including misting, moving, discomfort, poor vision or field of vision and conflict with helmet-mounted devices (HMDs). Flight safety incidents (FSI) thought to be related to CFS were reported in 17% overall and 27% of fast jet aircrew (P < 0.001). CLs were used by 22% with no serious adverse effects. The graded performance of CL as good or excellent was 91% for vision, 88% for comfort, 67% for handling, 78% for convenience and 88% for overall satisfaction. In conclusion, CFS are associated with significant problems in terms of comfort and safety. CLs are often a good refractive correction option as they are well tolerated by aircrew, giving a greater field of view without misting, sweat degradation or conflict with HMDs that might cause an FSI. Aircrew should be offered a full range of refractive devices at public expense.

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