Oct. 15, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill that requires any policies on sleep disorders and sleep apnea for commercial truck drivers first to go through the rulemaking process—a move that Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association “AOPA” and Congress are asking be afforded to the aviation industry. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration confirmed to AOPA that it “does not currently mandate testing for obstructive sleep apnea.”
The aviation community has been up in arms since the FAAs Federal Air Surgeon announced that the FAA would be releasing a new policy that would require aviation medical examiners to calculate a pilot’s body mass index (BMI), and require those with a BMI of 40 or greater to get tested for OSA by a physician who is a board-certified sleep specialist and treated, if diagnosed, before being issued a medical certificate.
An updated article posted on the AOPA Web site reports that at first, the screening would apply to pilots with a body mass index (BMI) over 40. Over time, the FAA would lower the BMI requirement, compelling more pilots to be screened by a board-certified sleep specialist. The policy is the result of NTSB recommendations, but AOPA argues that there is no evidence to support the need for such screenings among general aviation pilots.
AOPA is composing a formal letter to FAA Federal Flight Surgeon Dr. Fred Tilton asking him not to implement the new policy and noting that there was no public comment period before the policy was announced. The new requirements could potentially affect thousands of pilots, adding to what AOPA calls the already significant backlog for processing special issuance medicals.
This isn’t the first time sleep apnea policy has been the focus of attention in aviation. The NTSB in August 2009 recommended that the FAA change the airman medical application form to “elicit specific information about any previous diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea and about the presence of specific risk factors for that disorder.” AOPA pointed out that sleep apnea already must be reported on the online airman medical application in item 18x, “other illness, disability, or surgery.”