Sleep apnea scrutiny falls on pilots
By Alyssa J. Miller
Pilots impacted by the FAA’s proposed new obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) policy can expect to pay some $2,000 to more than $5,000 for testing and, if needed, equipment for treatment, according to AOPA research. Meanwhile, the trucking industry was successful through legislation in October in forcing the federal government to use rulemaking when it considers the impact of sleep apnea on commercial drivers.
On Oct. 15, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill that requires any policies on sleep disorders or sleep apnea for commercial truck drivers first to go through the rulemaking process—a move that AOPA and Congress are asking be afforded to the aviation industry. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration confirmed to AOPA that it “does not mandate testing for obstructive sleep apnea.”
The aviation community has been up in arms since Federal Air Surgeon Fred Tilton 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. Tilton stated that obstructive sleep apnea is almost universal in individuals with a BMI of 40 or greater and neck size of at least 17 inches. However, he said the agency would continue ratcheting down the BMI number “until we have identified and assured treatment for every airman with OSA.” He said the policy would later extend to air traffic controllers as well.
AOPA’s online reports on the policy generated more than 200 comments from readers, and forums across the Web lit up with pilots speculating on what the full policy may look like. While the complete policy has not yet been made public, AOPA has researched members’ questions about the current policy on medical certification when diagnosed with OSA, the testing and cost involved, and preventive measures.
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