AMEs object to sleep apnea policy

December 10, 2013

The Civil Aviation Medical Association, which is composed of aviation medical examiners, has sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta objecting to the agency’s proposed sleep apnea policy.

The letter echoes many of the objections raised by AOPA and others in the aviation community to the FAA’s recent announcement that it would require some pilots to be screened and, if necessary, treated for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) before receiving a medical certificate. The screening would initially 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.

In its letter, CAMA notes that, “The FAA is not tasked to provide long term prognoses, but rather to determine the likelihood of pilot incapacitation for the duration of the medical certificate.” It goes on to note that there is no scientific evidence that undiagnosed obesity or OSA has compromised aviation safety.

In addition to the high cost to pilots who must undergo testing, the sudden increase in pilots seeking sleep studies could present quality control problems given the “critical shortage of accredited sleep centers and board certified sleep medicine specialists.” The influx of pilots pursuing a special issuance medical would also “greatly burden a critically taxed medical certification system already suffering from very significant processing delays,” CAMA wrote. The FAA currently has a backlog of 55,000 special issuance medical applications.

Instead of implementing such a policy, the FAA should work with the general aviation community to develop a unified educational initiative regarding the health issues associated with obesity and sleep disorders, CAMA said.

“Pilots, Congress, and now the aviation medical community have all expressed their concerns about this sleep apnea policy,” said AOPA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Rob Hackman. “When so many different groups agree, it’s clear that the FAA needs to step back and reconsider whether its actions are really in the best interests of aviation safety.”

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.

Earlier this month, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee responded by passing legislation that would require the FAA to go through the rulemaking process before implementing policy changes related to sleep disorders. The voice-vote passage positions the measure to move to the full House of Representatives.

Elizabeth Tennyson

Elizabeth A Tennyson | Director of Government Affairs and Executive Communications, AOPA

Director of Government Affairs and Executive Communications Elizabeth Tennyson joined AOPA in 1998, the same year she earned her private pilot certificate. She also holds an instrument rating and enjoys jumping out of planes almost as much as flying them.