House passes bill to force rulemaking on sleep apnea

February 11, 2014

Sleep apnea

The full House has passed a bill requiring the FAA to go through the rulemaking process before implementing policy changes related to sleep disorders. The Feb. 11 vote sets the stage for an identical measure to move forward in the Senate.

The bill, which was introduced by House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), ranking member of the aviation subcommittee, had garnered 40 cosponsors, including numerous members of the House General Aviation Caucus, in advance of its passage by voice vote.

AOPA members Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced an identical measure in the Senate on Jan. 16.

AOPA had sought help from members of Congress after the FAA introduced a new policy on sleep apnea that would have forced thousands of pilots to go through expensive and intrusive testing.

Under the original FAA proposal, pilots with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater would have been required to undergo testing for sleep apnea. The FAA said it planned to expand the policy to include all pilots with a BMI of 30 or greater. Although the FAA later stepped back from that proposal, the general aviation community was disturbed that stakeholder input had not been sought in crafting the plan.

“We appreciate the strong bipartisan leadership on this issue in both the House and the Senate,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “We all want pilots to fly safely, and any policy changes should be based on transparency, public comment, and the opportunity to work together to identify more effective and less intrusive solutions."

The House action on sleep apnea comes as AOPA is seeking to reform the third-class medical process in ways that will reduce hassle and expense for pilots while maintaining safety. Almost two years ago AOPA and EAA filed a petition asking the FAA to expand the use of standards that would allow pilots to fly with a driver’s license and recurring training in evaluating their own fitness to fly. But after receiving no response from the FAA, the association turned to friends in Congress for help.

More recently, the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act was introduced in the House by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), a member of the House General Aviation Caucus, and GA Caucus Co-Chair Sam Graves (R-Mo.). That bill, which goes further than the AOPA-EAA petition by allowing pilots to make noncommercial VFR flights in aircraft weighing up to 6,000 pounds, now has 36 co-sponsors.