WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a hastily organized webinar held December 12, 2013, the Federal Air Surgeon said the FAA would move forward with implementing mandatory screening and testing for obstructive sleep apnea, despite opposition from the pilot and aviation medical communities.
The FAA recently announced that it would require aviation medical examiners (AMEs) 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). Over time, the FAA would lower the BMI requirement, compelling more pilots to be screened by a sleep apnea 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.
During the nearly two-hour webinar, FAA’s Dr. Fred Tilton, who was joined by Dr. Mark Rosekind of the NTSB and Dr. Mark Ivey, a board-certified sleep specialist, characterized the sleep apnea screening requirements as a “process enhancement,” rather than a “policy change.” As a result, Tilton said, the FAA does not need to – and won’t – go through the rulemaking process. He added that the policy would take effect in early January 2014.
100 years of flight and there has never been an accident attributed to sleep apnea.