Federal Air Surgeon Puts Sleep Apnea Issue on Fast Track

FAA moves forward with controversial policy.

Civil Aerospace Medical Institute

Civil Aerospace Medical Institute

** Civil Aerospace Medical Institute**

FAA Federal Air Surgeon Dr. Fred Tilton drew broad condemnation from aviation leaders a day after he proclaimed that the agency will move forward swiftly with a policy requiring sleep apnea screening for overweight pilots in spite of action being taken by Congress to slow the process.

During a December 12 webinar, Tilton insisted he would instruct Aviation Medical Examiners to implement the controversial plan starting next month. “If Congress passes a law [forcing industry consultation], we’ll be compliant with it,” Tilton said during the webinar. “Until they do so, we will move forward with this.”

The new policy would require AMEs to refer any pilot with a body mass index (BMI) over 40 for sleep apnea screening and treatment. Pilots who fail to undergo evaluation within 60 days would face losing their medicals. The cost to pilots for obstructive sleep apnea screening could be as high as $5,000, according to industry estimates.

Congress has stepped in with two new bills focused on pilot medicals. One would speed the adoption of driver’s license medicals for many private pilots and the other would force the FAA to go through the normal rulemaking process before requiring sleep apnea screening.

Condemnation of Tilton’s remarks came swiftly.

“This is unacceptable,” said Doug Carr, NBAA vice president for safety, security & regulation, who participated in the webinar. “The FAA is preparing to roll out a major new requirement on pilots without providing a data-driven justification for the policy, explaining its costs and benefits, or giving any means for the pilots who would be affected to give the agency feedback on it. For many of the pilots at NBAA companies, flying an airplane is how they make a living, so we take very seriously the FAA’s seeming lack of concern, and lack of transparency, on this matter.”

“I am deeply troubled by the manner in which the Federal Air Surgeon is proceeding,” wrote AOPA President Mark Baker in a letter sent yesterday to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. In the letter he urged senior agency officials to step in to delay the start of the policy.

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