AOPA Insists FAA Withdraw Sleep Disorder Policy or Initiate Rulemaking

FREDERICK, MD – In a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is insisting that the FAA withdraw its new policy on obstructive sleep apnea or go through the rulemaking process.

“We believe this policy inappropriately bypasses the rulemaking process; overlooks potentially more effective and efficient solutions; provides no clear safety benefit; and imposes unjustified costs on the user community,” wrote AOPA President Mark Baker.

The proposed policy, as described by Federal Air Surgeon Fred Tilton in a recent FAA medical bulletin, would initially affect pilots who have a body mass index over 40, but would later be expanded to include pilots with lower BMIs. Pilots who meet the criteria would have to be evaluated by a board certified sleep specialist and those who are diagnosed with sleep apnea would be required to undergo treatment before receiving a medical certificate.

“While we believe that pilots who experience sleep apnea should seek proper treatment, we also believe that this surprise policy announcement is an inappropriate and ineffective way to ensure that they do,” Baker wrote.

The letter noted that other, less intrusive options already exist. The AOPA/EAA Third-Class Medical Petition filed with the FAA nearly two years ago would address sleep apnea and other medical conditions by teaching pilots how to properly self-assess their fitness to fly–something pilots do every time they get in the cockpit, not just when they visit a medical examiner. The letter also argued that there is no evidence to support the safety benefits of the new policy.

In 2011, the FAA identified 124,973 airmen who are considered obese, making them potential candidates for testing under an expanded policy. AOPA estimates the cost of such testing to pilots at between $99 million and $374 million. That does not include the time and costs associated with seeking a special issuance medical certificate. FAA currently has a backlog of 55,000 cases for special issuance medical certificates.

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