Call to action: Support sleep apnea bill

December 17, 2013

Sleep apneaAOPA is encouraging members to help support legislation that would compel the FAA to go through the rulemaking process before imposing any policy regarding sleep disorders. The measure, H.R. 3578, was introduced in November after the FAA unilaterally announced a policy that would require pilots with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater to undergo expensive and intrusive sleep apnea testing. The FAA has said it plans to lower the BMI requirement over time, potentially affecting more than 120,000 pilots with a BMI of 30 or higher.

AOPA members who want to help build momentum to pass the legislation can find and contact their congressional representatives. Letters and e-mails sent to lawmakers should ask for their support in passing H.R. 3578 and explain why the legislation is important.

The bill is poised to move to the full House after passing the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by voice vote on Dec. 4.

House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), ranking member of the aviation subcommittee, introduced the measure Nov. 21. Additional sponsors included House GA Caucus Co-Chair Rep. 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 General Aviation Caucus.

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.

Since then, the Federal Air Surgeon has said the agency will move forward with the policy and has no plans to use the rulemaking process. The FAA has said it is not required to go through rulemaking because requiring sleep apnea testing is an “enhancement” to existing policy rather than a significant change or new policy.

But AOPA and other aviation organizations disagree.

“We believe this policy moves the FAA into the realm of predictive medicine, and that’s not where the agency belongs,” said Rob Hackman, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. “The FAA medical is supposed to assess the likelihood that a pilot will become medically incapacitated at some point within the duration of the medical certificate. Potential health issues outside of that mandate really belong in the hands of individuals and their doctors, not a regulatory bureaucracy.”

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.

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.