January 16, 2014
By AOPA Communications staff
Jan. 16, 2014
Contact: Steve Hedges
Senate Action Follows Similar Measure Now Before the House of Representatives
Frederick, MD – The U.S. Senate Thursday joined the House when several senators introduced legislation that would require the Federal Aviation Administration to follow a rule-making procedure before it adopts a controversial new standard concerning sleep apnea and pilots.
The legislation was introduced by Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) members Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), and co-sponsored by Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), and Mike Johanns (R-Nebraska). Begich and Johanns co-chair the Senate GA Caucus and both Manchin and Inhofe are caucus members.
The language in the Senate bill, S. 1941, mirrors that of H.R. 3578, introduced in November by House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey) and Ranking Member Rick Larsen (D-Washington). That bill passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Dec. 4, 2013, positioning it for a vote by the full House.
“As a pilot myself, I recognize that there is nothing more important than making sure our skies are safe, and I appreciate the FAA’s efforts to offer the best guidance on how to do so,” Manchin said. “I also believe that government should work as a partner with the private sector. It’s just common sense to let the pilot community provide public feedback during the rulemaking process before the FAA finalizes any new guidelines.”
Rulemaking typically provides a period for public comment on a proposed regulation and can require an agency like the FAA to estimate the cost of the new law.
The legislation comes in response to the FAA’s unilateral announcement of 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 initially said it planned to lower the BMI requirement over time, potentially affecting more than 120,000 pilots with a BMI of 30 or higher.
The reaction from AOPA and others in the general aviation community was immediate and overwhelmingly negative.
AOPA demanded that the FAA withdraw the policy or submit to the rulemaking process, and turned to friends in Congress for help. The issue was also discussed at a meeting between AOPA President Mark Baker and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, and on Dec. 19, 2013 the FAA contacted AOPA to say it would put the policy change on hold.
The FAA has since said it is still concerned about sleep apnea and wants to find a more acceptable way to address the issue. The legislation now working its way through the House and Senate would ensure that the stakeholder community has the opportunity to weigh in before the FAA makes any future changes to its policy.
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