AOPA insists FAA withdraw new sleep disorder policy

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) on Wednesday sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta 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 Tipton 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.

And the letter argued that there is no evidence to support the safety benefits of the new policy. An extensive review of a decade’s worth of general aviation accidents by a joint FAA-industry panel found no cases in which sleep apnea was a causal or contributing factor in a fatal GA accident.

The costs of the new policy would be high, AOPA official said.

In 2011, the FAA identified 124,973 pilot 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.

AOPA’s latter to Administrator Huerta may be viewed here


  1. says

    I agree. I know someone that works for the FAA. He tells me that the FAA is so bloated with incompetent people in the supervision an management arena it’s impossible to get anything accomplished. He has 4 engineering degrees an finds it impossible to communicate with these with management degrees managers. They hire these people who don’t have a clue about aircraft or air traffic control or anything the FAA controls. They can’t make a decision with out years worth of study from someone out side the FAA. Forget anyone still able to run a slide rule, have to have a special computer to find the answer.
    You ever heard that a manager can manage anything? I say BS. They need to know something about the business or it will be destroyed due to incompetent people in high places.
    Just my mad 2 cents an misspent tax dollars.

    • SuperMom says

      Mitch, I guess your friend and my friend don’t work at the same facility.
      Let’s “go there” for a moment anyway.
      The unstated policy of the current administration is ‘fire them now, and we will sort it out later’ when it comes to whistleblowers. This leads to employees keeping their heads down and their resumes current at all times. It does NOT allow for rational thought.
      I am not a pilot. I have mostly been a homemaker. In my home, bad behavior was not rewarded, it was condemned. At the same time, while raising self-confident children, they were allowed to ‘have a say’ in their home. When I heard of one of their schoolmates behaving badly, I made quite clear to them what the circumstances would be for a child in MY house in similar circumstances. This is known as ‘the proactive approach, and was very effective. None of the four ever got into any serious legal trouble.
      The problem lies not only in the aviation community being a miniscule portion of the general population, but from the aviation community giving off the aura of being ‘a closed society’.
      When was the last time you asked your neighbor to go flying with you? When is the last time you waxed poetic to someone about the joys of flying?
      When you are not an active participant in the solution,
      You become a small part of the problem.
      (I wanted at least $1’s worth. Two pennies isn’t much copper wire anymore)

  2. Mike says

    Bureaucracy run amok!!!

    So much, way too much big brother, especially when you can’t trust big brother. A shining example: “If you like your health insurance, you can keep your health insurance.”

    The FAA is just another government bureaucracy. Building a bigger kingdom of bureaucrats and more power over us serfs is all they care about.
    ‘Give me life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness’ means nothing to the FAA or our government anymore.

    • Greg W says

      So true, the FAA has always had a split personality as 1/2 wants to hang you and 1/2 really did want to help. Now the “safety” mantra is simply more regulation and the regulatory book keeps getting bigger. The definition of a Bureaucracy is an organization that exists for and to perpetuate it’s self. I miss the guys at the old Grand Rapids MI,GADO 8, the maintenance guys really did want to help,the GADOs’ closed and now we have more regulators…….oh well.

  3. vaughn price says

    Richard Warner-Super Mom-Larry Wheelock
    You all have it right, the FAA Is like a bull in a china store. all about control. never about their real job of promoting safety. I have waited almost four months for my class three to be sent to me. and its not because I am a medical case. its because I am 83 years old, but with 15000 hours general aviation and flown 139 different makes and models, a 1941 DC-3 was number 139, and still hike 3 miles every morning. The FAA needs to be shook up from top to bottom

  4. Richard Warner says

    I want to add that a lady I know worked for a Sleep Disorder doctor and she said that if you went to the doctor she worked for, you would be diagnosed with sleep apnea. He owned a medical supply store that was selling equipment to wear while sleeping and felt that if you thought you might have a sleep disorder, you probably did. I always tell people that if you like the IRS, you ouldl absolutely love the FAA.

    • SuperMom says

      And I would add that I rode in a dumptruck during the Flood of 2008 with Jim Horton, who told me of participating in a sleep lab, after which he was uneasily informed that he DOES suffer from SA, which was determined AFTER the fact because ‘the tape’ showed where he had quit breathing for nearly 8 minutes.
      Instead of addressing pilot fatigue, and all the ways that airlines skirt that particular issue (and it is a prevalent problem with all flight crews), this is what they have come up with.
      As an aside, I know many OTR drivers who would just love it if DOT came up with a rule that required mandatory retirement.

  5. Richard Warner says

    I am overweight. I have been flying since I was 17 and am now 78. I flew airline for 30 of those years and have accumulated over 26,000 hours of accident, incident and violation free flying. My mother & father were “overweight”. Dad made it to 90 and mom to over 100. The FAA has found a way to force me to sell my Cessna 180 and buy a light sport. They ought to just get rid of the 3rd class physical completely. This is more of the government’s taking away freedoms by bureacratic edicts. Thats what they did in Russia. I think Congress should clean the FAA’s house and start over.

    • Sarah A says

      I like your ending point !!!!!! Lest take all the FAA rules and regulations and start from scratch. You get an independent tribunal and force the FAA to justify why every rule and policy is justified and effective. Just think at how much slimmer the rule books could be and I seriously doubt there would be any such thing as a 3rd class medical when they are done with that process. The FAA formed a comission to look at revising the way that new aircraft and components are certified and then promptly ignored it so by some miricle our disfunctional government passed a law to force them to implement the recomendations. Why would you have a commission of highly qualified individuals study an issue and then ignore the reccomendations they produce. Maybe a progressive element got the study funded and then the old guard stepped in and said “It has always worked just fine for us this way and it makes for lots of workers so it does not need to be changed” although those addon workers are little more then ticks on a dog and the system works horribly as judged by any competent outsider. I think it is time to start lobbying congress to force the FAA to go with the 3rd class drivers license medical. I got a new license today and the form asked about a dozen medical conditions that could disqualify you from getting a drivers license, all stuff that could cause problems with your 3rd class medical but none of the stupid stuff like sleep apnea.

  6. SuperMom says

    Because I have a wide variety of friends at my local airport, I wrote, faxed, e-mailed and called a short list of Congresspersons (I picked all my own and The Big Three: Boehner, Ryan, and Cantor) in response to the threat of closing ATC towers. In my correspondence, I pointed out that the “promises made, not kept” theory was what was offending me the most about the situation. Those folks have made many buying decisions based on continuing employment. Government jobs are usually considered very secure, because no one can imagine a United States without layers of government.
    The most telling response came from Illinois Representative Aaron Schock who informed me that part of the reason for not rushing to reauthorize appropriations for the FAA was simply what had become a habit with the FAA of enacting policies that should be addressed instead by legislation that had been properly debated in Congress.
    I agree with this legitimate concern, based on the smattering of legal knowledge I have regarding precedent. Once a practice is put in place, and everyone conforms with the practice, then this is used as the basis for sliding it into the legal books.
    An agency that was originally begun as a promoter of safety in aviation, and of aviation as a whole has degenerated into one that has happily embraced the idea that the promotion of aviation itself is no longer a part of its mission. Conflict of interest was limited when they were expected to manage both messages. Dictatorship has become the norm with only one message to promote.
    Based on the concept of safety (one that nearly every aviator supports), they should be examining a policy of never staying at your own home, since most accidents are of the household type, and car wrecks are overwhelmingly within 20 miles of home. (Yes, that last is sarcasm because I have also been informed that repeatedly saying “Quit being stupid!” is offensive.)

  7. Larry Wheelock says

    Bull! Sleep Apnea is one of the medical world’s recent buzz phrase that has lined the pockets of many practicioners creating sleep apnea clinics and gruesome treatment methods.
    And, how many accidents have been caused by “obese” pilots and just how is the line drawn between “overweight” and “Obese” ?
    I think this is simply another ploy by certain people in the FAA to do away with general aviation!
    I have been an active pilot for over 50 years. Never had any problem passing the third class medical, and have been “overweight” for most of my life, but do not considermyself “Obese” but the latest definition using the subjective BMI probably woujld disqualify me. Yes, I probably would have a problem fitting in a Quickee, but no problem in my Stinson or Mooney,
    This is probably just another liberal politicians means of justifying his or her existance.
    Larry Wheelock 6′ and 220

    • SuperMom says

      I have always found that incidents of sleep apnea are best relieved by your wife smacking your shoulder and saying, “Wake up, dummy. You stopped breathing again.”

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