Bill to stop new sleep apnea policy set for vote in House

Legislation would force FAA to use rulemaking process

February 7, 2014

The full House is set to vote next week on a bill that would require the FAA to go through the rulemaking process before implementing policy changes related to sleep disorders. An identical measure has been introduced in the Senate.

The measure passed the House Transportation Committee in December after being introduced 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 Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Reps. 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.

GA supporters in the Senate introduced an identical measure on Jan. 16. The legislation was introduced by AOPA members Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), and co-sponsored by Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.). Begich and Johanns co-chair the Senate GA Caucus, and both Manchin and Inhofe are caucus members.

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.

Under the original FAA proposal, pilots with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater would have been required to undergo expensive testing for sleep apnea. The FAA said it planned to expand the policy over time to include all pilots with a BMI of 30 or greater, which includes more than 100,000 individuals. The FAA has since stepped back from that proposal for the time being.

“The entire medical certification process has become unnecessarily cumbersome and expensive, while doing little to improve safety,” said Jim Coon, AOPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Advocacy. “That is why AOPA and EAA filed a petition to change the way recreational pilots certify their fitness to fly—a petition that has waited almost two years for a response from the FAA. And it’s why we’ll continue to push to reform the entire third-class medical process.”

Congress intervened in a similar situation in October 2013 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.