Proposed sleep apnea policy leads to new Congressional bill

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.


  1. Tom says

    It’s agency paranoia at its best. God forbid if an airplane “fell” onto a school yard and the NTSB found the pilot was obese and had his first heart attack but no FAA oversight on his “unhealthy lifestyle”. It’s all about public perception of those who continually want the government to “protect” them no matter what the monetary costs, no matter what the lowest of odds of the risks involved, and no matter what the cost there is to our personal freedoms.

  2. Jeff says

    Sounds like someone at the FAA medical department has some friends who are board certified sleep doctors and need a bunch of work to me. This should have gone through rule making first, why did they think it didn’t have to? It also sounds like empire building, if they have 55,000 Special Issuance now they can’t even handle in a reasonable time frame then you have 120,000 pilots defined as candidates for sleep apnea just by their height and weight then it would be grounds for hiring a larger staff to do all the extra work that has been created. I know people who have sleep apnea and have machines to sleep with and a lot of those guys are not overweight, don’t have a 17 inch neck and or a BMI above 40. If you don’t sleep(or snore like a horse) then you have a problem and have a sleep study no mater what you BMI is.

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