Are polarized lenses suitable for flying?
This is another area where you can find all kinds of “guidance”, but quite a bit of it is inaccurate. I’ll start by answering the basic question.
Polarized lenses are not recommended for Airliner flight-deck use.
Polarized lenses might be suitable for flying in some other areas of aviation.
Let’s talk briefly about the fight-deck environment, this isn’t necessarily restricted to airliners but to any flight-deck or cockpit that has complex, heated windscreens.
Complex windscreens are constructed from layers of glass and plastic laminates and have built-in heating elements. When you use polarized sunglasses to look through an airliner windscreen you will see stress in the windscreen material, not all over, but in particular areas, depending on the angle that you are viewing them and the position of the sun. The result is that your vision through the windscreen is compromised. Windscreens on new aircraft appear better but they are still not acceptable and, after a while, they won’t be new anyway!
We’ve tested different types of polarized lenses including the latest polarized technologies, but the problem still exists and we’re not aware of any technology in development that will provide clear vision.
All the remaining issues fall into two groups; instrumentation and philosophy.
In the past instrument displays, both LCD and CRT seemed to be polarized in random directions and this could mean that you might be able to see one relatively clearly whilst an adjacent screen would appear dark. In addition to this various LCD radio panels appeared to polarize the different elements of the numbers inconsistently, resulting in the possibility of numbers displaying incorrectly when viewed through polarized lenses. Hardly ideal.
Modern displays are all polarized at 45 degrees which means that they really aren’t a problem. You can lean to the left as far as you like and the display will remain good and you have to lean an un-natural amount to the right before they start to go dark. To lean over that far you’d probably be incapacitated and the screens probably wouldn’t be your big concern!
Obviously, if you’re all analogue, you shouldn’t have a problem either.
That leaves philosophy. There is guidance that says that being able to see reflections off other aircraft will give you better situational awareness and might prevent a collision and that, if you’re wearing polarized lenses, you won’t see these visual cues. On the other hand, a good polarized lens shouldn’t prevent you seeing reflections and may well improve visual acuity sufficiently to make it a better option.
So, there you are, if your windscreens and instruments aren’t a problem, it’s up to you to decide the safest option for your personal situation. Most aviation authorities offer guidance but some publish directives and so, if that’s the case, make sure that you comply. Sea plane pilots should not wear polarized lenses because of the potential loss of visual cues which are used to judge height above the surface of the water.
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