WASHINGTON, DC – The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is reporting that the FAA will move forward with implementing mandatory screening and testing for obstructive sleep apnea, despite opposition from the pilot and aviation medical communities.
During a webinar last week, the Federal Flight Surgeon said the FAA would require aviation medical examiners to calculate body mass index (BMI) for all pilots. Those with a BMI of 40 or greater would have to be screened and, if necessary, treated for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).
“The AME may issue a medical certificate at the time of the examination; however, the FAA will follow up with a request for additional evaluations, including a sleep study and evaluation by a board-certified sleep specialist,” wrote Elizabeth A. Tennyson of the AOPA. “Pilots who don’t undertake the evaluation within 60 days would face receiving a letter of disqualification. Over time, the FAA would lower the BMI requirement, compelling more pilots to be screened by a sleep specialist. The FAA currently lists 5,000 pilots with a BMI of 40 or greater and more than 120,000 who qualify as obese with a BMI of 30 or higher.”
Much like the trucking industry, AOPA and others have objected to the new testing requirements, saying they force AMEs to venture into predictive medicine, “rather than focusing on their mandate of determining the likelihood that a pilot will be medically incapacitated at some point in the duration of the medical certificate.”
The AOPA has argued that such a significant change should go through the more stringent “rulemaking process” to allow public input and the opportunity to explore less intrusive and less costly methods for addressing concerns about sleep disorders. Instead of “rulemaking,” the FAA is using its regulatory powers to implement the new guidelines.
“The driver for all of this is cost and convenience. Lab tests are labor-intensive and costly,” said Safwan Badr, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, in the article. “Insurance companies sometimes insist on home studies first. But patients would be much better off if insurers would allow doctors to use their best judgment.”
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