Bill to stop new sleep apnea policy moves forward

December 5, 2013

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Dec. 4 passed legislation that would require the FAA to go through the rulemaking process before implementing policy changes related to sleep disorders. The voice-vote passage led by full committee Chairman Shuster (R-Pa.) positions the measure to move to the full House of Representatives.

The measure was introduced Nov. 21 by House aviation subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), ranking member of the aviation subcommittee. Additional sponsors included House General Aviation Caucus Co-Chair Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.); Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.); Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.); and Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.). All of the co-sponsors are members of the House GA Caucus.

“Safety remains my and the subcommittee’s top priority. While sleep apnea has never been identified as a primary cause or contributing factor of an aviation accident, health issues can arise unexpectedly, which is why I have always supported reasonable, effective, and proactive efforts to improve aviation safety,” LoBiondo said in a statement following passage of the bill. “Should a revision to existing policies on sleep disorders be warranted, then the FAA should engage in an open rulemaking process to ensure all viewpoints, including those of medical experts, are heard and carefully considered.”

Larsen agreed, saying, “The FAA needs to address the issue of sleep apnea in an open and transparent way that lets all stakeholders and safety experts provide input. I thank Chairman LoBiondo for his leadership on this issue and I look forward to working with the FAA, pilots, airlines and others to continue making flying safer.”

AOPA had previously demanded that the FAA withdraw the policy or submit to the rulemaking process, and turned to friends in Congress for help after the FAA unilaterally announced the policy change.

“We appreciate the efforts of Chairman LoBiondo and Ranking Member Larsen and so many of their fellow GA Caucus members in introducing this legislation and moving it forward,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “The FAA has no business ‘rulemaking by policy.’ Going through the rulemaking process will give pilots the chance to comment on changes that could cost them millions, while giving the FAA the opportunity to explore less intrusive methods for ensuring the safety of flight.”

“We recognize that sleep apnea is a serious disorder that needs treatment, but we don’t believe the FAA should be regulating preventive medicine,” said Rob Hackman, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs.

Congress intervened in a similar situation in October after the Department of Transportation attempted to require sleep apnea testing for commercial truck drivers. In that case Congress passed a law requiring the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to go through the formal rulemaking process before requiring testing.

An FAA fact sheet on the agency’s sleep apnea policy is available online.