Which laser vision correction is best for pilots?

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Sharp vision is not just a convenience but a critical necessity for pilots. Whether flying commercial airliners or military aircraft, pilots rely on their vision for navigation, communication, and overall safety. With advancements in laser vision correction procedures, pilots now have options to achieve optimal vision without the need of glasses or contact lenses.

Vision Requirements for Pilots

Pilots must meet the vision requirements set by aviation authorities like the RSAF and commercial airlines. These standards ensure that pilots have clear uncorrected or corrected vision for safe operation of aircraft. Currently, RSAF pilots are required to have eye prescription of under 800 degrees, along with astigmatism of under 300 degrees per eye.

Challenges Faced by Pilot Candidates

For individuals with mild myopia, the option of flying with aviation spectacles is still available. However, some pilots have reported discomfort and inconvenience associated with this solution. While aviation spectacles can effectively correct vision, they may not provide the same level of comfort.

Understanding LASIK, PRK, and SMILE

LASIK (Laser-Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis) involves reshaping the cornea using a laser to correct refractive errors such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. For pilots, LASIK offers quick recovery and minimal discomfort. However, there are risks, including dry eyes and, and in rare cases, flap dislodgement, which may not be suitable for pilots engaged in combat sports. The creation of the corneal flap disturbs the corneal nerves, which play a crucial role in tear production, resulting in temporary or persistent dryness and visual fluctuations.

PRK (Photorefractive Keratectomy) is another option for laser vision correction. Unlike LASIK, PRK does not involve creating a corneal flap. Instead, the outer layer of the cornea is gently removed before reshaping the underlying tissue with a laser. This layer must regenerate naturally over time, leading to a longer initial recovery period compared to LASIK, typically around 5-7 days. While PRK may require a longer recovery time compared to LASIK, it eliminates the risk of flap-related complications and is associated with lesser incidence of dry eyes, making it a viable option for pilots.

SMILE (Small Incision Lenticule Extraction) is a newer advancement in laser vision correction. It involves creating a small incision to remove a lenticule of corneal tissue, thereby reshaping the cornea. SMILE offers advantages such as a smaller incision size, quick recovery time, and reduced risk of dry eyes. Additionally, since no corneal flap is created, there is no risk of flap dislodgement, making it an appealing option for pilots seeking maximum safety.

Decision-Making Process for Pilots

When considering laser vision correction, pilots should undergo a comprehensive consultation and assessment with an experienced eye surgeon. Factors such as recovery time, presence of dry eyes, and prescription strength should be taken into account. While all procedures have their merits, pilots must prioritize safety and choose the option that best suits their individual needs and lifestyle.


  1. Question: Can I wear contact lenses after LASIK, PRK, or SMILE?
    1. Answer: Yes, however contact lens fitting with an optometrist is required to ensure a suitable fit.
  2. Question: How long does each procedure take?
    1. Answer: The actual procedure typically takes less than 30 minutes per eye.
  3. Question: What is the age limit for pilots undergoing laser vision correction?
    1. Answer: Pilots must be 18 years or older with a stable prescription for at least 12 months.
  4. Question: Can I undergo laser vision correction if I have other eye conditions?
    1. Answer: Depending on different eye conditions, comprehensive assessment will determine suitability.
  5. Question: How soon can I return to flying after LASIK, PRK, or SMILE?
    1. Answer: Recovery times vary but pilots can typically return to flying within a few days to a week after the procedure, depending on individual healing.

In conclusion, laser vision correction offers pilots the opportunity to achieve clear vision and enhance safety in the cockpit. By understanding the different procedures and carefully considering individual factors, pilots can then make decisions to achieve optimal vision for their aviation careers.