A bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would require the FAA to go through the rulemaking process before implementing new policies regarding sleep disorders.
The bill was created in response to a surprise FAA policy change that would require pilots with a body mass index (BMI) over 40 to be tested for obstructive sleep apnea by a board-certified sleep specialist.
Pilots diagnosed with the disorder would have to be treated before being allowed to fly. Over time, the policy would expand to include testing for pilots with lower BMIs.
“We are grateful to our friends in Congress who stepped forward to offer this legislation,” said Mark Baker, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. “The policy change is arbitrary and capricious and doesn’t make sense given the data.”
A detailed review of a decade’s worth of fatal general aviation accidents found no cases in which sleep apnea was a causal or contributing factor, but AOPA estimates the expanded testing policy could cost pilots between $99 million and $347 million in medical fees alone. The policy would also have added significantly to the 55,000-case backlog of special issuance medicals awaiting FAA attention.
The measure is sponsored by Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey), Chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee; Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Washington), Ranking Member of the Aviation Subcommittee; Rep. Sam Graves (R-Missouri), co-chair of the House General Aviation Caucus; Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois); Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Indiana); Rep. Richard Hudson (R-North Carolina); and Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pennsylvania). All are members of the House General Aviation Caucus.
The legislation would “ensure that any new or revised requirement providing for the screening, testing, or treatment of an airman or an air traffic controller for a sleep disorder is adopted pursuant to a rulemaking proceeding.”
AOPA sent a letter to the FAA administrator on Wednesday insisting that the agency withdraw the policy or subject it to the rulemaking process, which includes an opportunity for public comment. AOPA has argued that the proposed policy change bypassed the rulemaking process, overlooked potentially more effective solutions, provided no clear safety benefit and imposed unjustified costs on the user community.