House Bill Addresses FAA Sleep Apnea Policy

** Photo by Rachel Tayse/Flickr**

After the FAA last week appeared to brush off sharp criticism over a new medical policy directed at overweight pilots, Congress reacted by crafting a bill that would require the agency to allow public comments on the proposal and apply normal rulemaking procedures before adopting the change.

The FAA wants pilots diagnosed with high body mass index (BMI) to be referred to sleep specialists for further evaluation. The new rule was announced by federal air surgeon Dr. Fred Tilton in the Federal Air Surgeon's Medical Bulletin and implemented without an opportunity for public comment, prompting a backlash from AOPA and EAA.

The organizations argue that the policy exceeds the Federal Flight Surgeon's mandate and could cost pilots thousands of dollars in additional medical bills. Even worse, checking pilots for sleep apnea won't improve safety, they say.

“The policy change is arbitrary and capricious and doesn't make sense given the data,” said AOPA president Mark Baker. AOPA points to a decade's worth of general aviation accident data that the organization says uncovered no cases where sleep apnea was a causal or contributing factor.

The policy specifies that pilots or air traffic controllers with a BMI of 40 or higher be automatically referred to a sleep specialist. The bill introduced in the House and sponsored by members of the aviation coalition would prevent the FAA from adopting new rules pertaining to pilots with sleep apnea — including testing and screening — without adhering to the normal rulemaking process.

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