FAA puts sleep apnea policy on hold

December 19, 2013

FAA puts controversial sleep apnea policy on hold. The agency will open discussions on the policy with industry stakeholders in January.

Federal Air Surgeon Fred Tilton contacted AOPA Dec. 19 to announce that the FAA will not move ahead with implementing its new sleep apnea policy in January. The policy would have required pilots with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 40 to be tested, and if needed, treated for obstructive sleep apnea. Instead, in the new year, the agency will open discussions with aviation industry stakeholders to find a way to balance pilots’ and the FAA’s concerns.

That’s a welcomed reversal of the agency’s course just a week ago, when on Dec. 12, Tilton said the FAA was going to move forward with a “process enhancement” and was not required to go through the rulemaking process nor gather comments from the industry.

“The FAA has heard the concerns of pilots, AOPA, aviation medical examiners, and Congress loud and clear,” said AOPA President Mark Baker, who met with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta Dec. 18 to discuss a wide variety of general aviation issues, including the controversial sleep apnea policy. “We’re grateful that the FAA has taken our concerns into consideration and will allow the community to come together in January to figure out a better way forward.”

This announcement, however, does not mean the FAA is dropping the issue altogether: The agency reiterated to AOPA that it still has significant concerns about pilots flying with undiagnosed sleep apnea. However, the FAA is willing to work out what AOPA hopes will be a more palatable solution for pilots.

Meanwhile, Congress still has legislation that has advanced to the full House that would require the FAA to go through the rulemaking process.

On Dec. 12, Baker wrote to Huerta calling on him to withdraw the new sleep apnea policy or send it through the rulemaking process. He also noted that Congress recently introduced the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act, which would allow pilots to use their driver’s license as a medical certificate for certain noncommercial VFR operations.

“AOPA is ready to start the new year off right, working collaboratively with the industry and FAA to develop a more workable solution and to educate the aviation industry on the FAA’s concerns,” Baker said.