FAA opens dialogue on sleep apnea

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Officials at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) say they welcome a step taken by the FAA to open a dialogue with the aviation industry about the agency’s pilot-screening proposal for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

The FAA recently circulated draft revisions of its proposal as a mechanism to engage industry stakeholders on the controversial policy, which was introduced last November, according to NBAA officials.

EdBolenNBAA“While we are still reviewing the documents circulated by the FAA, we are encouraged by the agency’s decision to have a meaningful exchange about its OSA-screening proposal,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “As we have stated all along, one of our chief concerns when the initial plan was introduced was that the FAA appeared ready to move to full implementation without the benefit of industry input from the people in the aviation community who would be most impacted by the change.”

After an initial review of the FAA’s draft revisions, Bolen noted that the agency is apparently considering a change to one aspect of its policy, which would have denied a medical certificate to any pilot identified by an aviation medical examiner (AME) as being at risk for sleep apnea based on the pilot’s body-mass index (BMI). As part of that plan, pilots would have received their medical certificate only after undergoing OSA evaluation and treatment by a sleep specialist, at significant cost to the pilot.

Under the draft policy revision, however, at-risk pilots would be issued a medical certificate (assuming they were otherwise qualified) on the condition that they undergo OSA screening within 90 days by any qualifying doctor, including their primary care physician, following common evaluation protocols.

“While we will continue to support congressional efforts to bring greater transparency to this process, we believe the FAA’s decision to discuss draft revisions to its OSA proposal marks a good first step in the right direction toward a constructive dialogue about the plan,” Bolen added.

In the time since the FAA announced its OSA-screening plan, NBAA and other groups have continually worked to bring attention to the policy, and to prompt industry mobilization on the issue.

Most recently, NBAA joined with other aviation groups in a coalition calling for swift passage of U.S. Senate legislation to bring transparency to any FAA policy decision regarding sleep apnea.

Last December, in testimony provided for a House aviation subcommittee hearing, Bolen expressed his continuing concern about implementation of an OSA-screening requirement without first seeking comment from aviation stakeholders.

The hearing followed a letter Bolen sent to committee members detailing NBAA’s concerns over the agency’s attempt to implement its OSA-screening rule.


  1. James says

    How is this a good first step. This is an issue that should not have had any steps to take at all. You are patting them on the back for what?

  2. duncan says

    Sirs and mam’s
    Our adversary is simply those who are foreign to our environment. A Senator has no rules of fitness to pass laws….drunk, drugs, not a problem…they have placed themselves above scrutiny for anything other than the most egregious behavior, [ Weiner??!!] so to protect our environment and our sensible rules we must point out that we are the judge and jury of our fitness to fly. We die from an error in this issue. I have a CPAP. But I flew professionally at the highest level and never forgot that I had a responsibility when I signed for a flight declaring I was ” fit to fly” in every way. We must aggressively demand that we are removed from that final judgment of fitness, that a rule inhibiting our free exercise of our right to make that call, is a violation of our rights, no matter how you phrase or put it . my two cents worth. Who’s flying the plane anyway???

  3. Addie Fanguy says

    I am amazed the FAA can aggresively tackle this issue while the enitre time turning their heads to the amount of hours Part 91corporate pilots are coerced to fly. As stated in an earlier comment, Part 135 pilots also fall into this group but not quite as extensively. Numerous times evereyday across this country Part 91 pilots work 15 or more hours a day to make the mission happen. Where the hell is the FAA on these issues since they are so concerned about tired pilots and safety? Washington continues to amaze me daily, unfortunately for the wrong reasons.

  4. Gregory Roberts says

    I am a soldier working on my license. Everyday I am reading something about keeping the cost down for pilots and those getting there license. I just been tested for sleep apnea and now I sleep with a CPAP. My point is just the sleep study test alone was just a little more than a $1,000. I didn’t see the bill for the CPAP but another $1,000 and I am sure that I am not to far of on the cost of that. $2,000 or more just to make the FAA happy on something else just to make it harder to fly.

  5. Ray DeForge says

    Remember 88-2?
    The final rule implementation “reduced” the number of Mode – C veils to include “only” the 30 nautical miles from the center of the primary airport associated with a Terminal Control Area (class B).

    Wonder what the final rule implementation will be on this one?
    At this rate, the FAA is fast approaching a scenario that will cut off its nose to spite its face via a financial “general strike”. Non-commercial pilots will either stop flying on a cost basis, or fly anyway without a medical until they get caught (more $$$ to the FAA for “enforcement”).

  6. Tom Frey says

    If the ultra light and light sport pilot programs have served no better purpose, they have absolutely proven that general aviation has been seriously over regulated since the very beginning. The addition of sleep apnea testing to any level of aviation medical is just another step in the wrong direction, and any possible benefit from it will pale in comparison to factors like lifestyles, cockpit over automation and long hours for low pay. If fact, sleep testing will to nothing to assure any pilot is well rested.

  7. Dion Petaros says

    Mr Bolen
    I agree that it is good the FAA is willing to engage stakeholders in this discussion, but they have apparently already “ruled” to apply this unnecessary reg. As a commercial (Part 91k and Part 135) pilot, I am allowed to fly up to 10 hours and on duty for 14 hours EVERY DAY. Additionally, the regs only require that I have 13 days (13 Twenty four hour) rest periods in a calendar quarter!! If sleepy pilots is a safety issue (and we are mostly chronically deprived) we should be lobbying to change the work/rest requirements before they burden us with additional “medical certificate” requirements.
    For my part, please have your organization press lawmakers to get the FAA to make valid changes to the rest rules. Or is the airline and charter management lobby too strong??????

  8. Walt Williams says

    How is this a damn bit different? Same out of pocket expense, arbitrary selection not based on any medical or scientific facts, and 90 days to comply or lose your medical. Come on AOPA, grow a backbone and just say no to stupidity or quit pretending to representing us and go away!

  9. BenR says

    “Encouraged” because the FAA is willing to talk? Talk about what? The science behind BMI as an indication of health? The science behind OSA? The fact that nearly 100% of people who undergo sleep studies are diagnosed with OSA?
    This policy isn’t based on sound science or sound logic. It’s arbitrary and wrong.
    It is a bad idea. The only “modified” that will make this policy right is to drop it and instead invest the time in finding real problems to solve.

  10. Monney says

    Unbelievable! The first step in negotiation when you have a weak hand is to delay. Then defer to a higher authority when the FAA offers no evidence to support its position. In my humble estimate, there is no good faith reliance that can be placed on the FAA. This is called feel good regulation which only creates more harm than good. Come on FAA, show all of us the facts and if no sound empirical evidence is available, go do something else that might have value.

  11. Ricky greaves says

    Why should the FAA be allowed into our bedroom? They can not service the 26,000 special issuance’s they have already been tasked with! Pilots already wait over two months for review and then resubmit with changes that previously were allowed, then told that is not allowed six months and waiting for a six month duration certificate!

  12. Sam Clarke says

    Using FAA logic, this requirement should, at a minimum, be extended to the licensing of commercial truckers who drive 100,000# plus rigs, many double and triple trailers, on short rest on crowded interstate highways. Trucking accidents are legion. OSA, while not shown to constitute a hazard to commercial trucking, might very well be one. In the absence of evidence – regulate! Better safe than sorry! For the ultimate in safety, regulate passenger vehicle licensing – free up those “handicapped” parking slots that are now occupied by drivers who are too fat to walk. I can foresee several hundred thousand of my fellow Oregonians removed from the road in short order. Of course we’ll need a new medical specialty to service this need.

    So much for sarcasm. This is very clearly a solution in need of a problem – an FAA speciality.

  13. Alex says

    Mr. Bolen, sir, this is the oldest trick in the book. First they come on really headstrong, and then we are supposed to be jumping for joy when they back off to what was previously unacceptable? No, absolutely not. There is no sleep apnea problem in GA, but there is a control freak problem in Washington; maybe we should test for that first.

  14. Brett Hawkins says

    Let’s not forget that the FAA, though large and powerful, is subject to pressure such as that brought by certain members of Congress after the Colgan Air commuter plane crash, which was attributed in part to an allegedly fatigued flight crew. The cries of “this must never happen again!!” from bereaved survivors and their elected representatives during televised press conferences may lead to black and white, one-size-fits-all policies.

    While OSA (as opposed to garden variety fatigue) may or may not constitute a medical danger for pilots, any new rules should apply only to professional pilots who carry passengers for hire. While airline captains and first officers will scream discrimination, the fact remains that they are paid (in most cases) to fly the public, and accordingly can expect a heavier burden of oversight compared to pilots flying for recreational and other private purposes.

    The most logical method of reallocating the FAA’s limited resources among its many responsibilities would be to statutorily exempt most “recreational” flights from the medical oversight of the FAA per GAPPA. The doctors and other professionals who currently review and process 3rd class medical certificates would be relieved of a huge burden and could be assigned to more important tasks.

    • BenR says

      I think you’ve missed the most important part of the story: This entire policy is just flat wrong. BMI is a meaningless measurement of health. OSA is the latest popular diagnosis of the medical procession. Neither have been tied via any evidence or logical thought process to a safety issue. There is as much evidence that white shirts are a safety problem: nearly all airline pilots who crashed were wearing white shirts, so if you are wearing a white shirt we should yank your certificate if you don’t submit to an expensive, unnecessary and ultimately meaningless sleep study. You’d be OK with that rule if it only applied to Class 1 and 2 medicals?

      The FAA is in the wrong and there is no reason to be “encouraged” because they are willing to be slightly less wrong, or suggest it is less wrong when it only applies to the other guy.

  15. Jeff Aryan says

    Aviation has been around for over 100 years and has gotten to the point that almost if not all facets are known and fully understood. Yes, there is more to learn, but with the advances that have come about in the last 100 plus years thru wars and peace. This has shown, we as a society really do know a whole lot of aviation science. The proof is in the pudding.

    The FAA is starting to realize that this is the beginning of the end for them in terms of any significant new science, theories and ideas to come out. That means the end of money and budgets being poured into their bureaucracy. The FAA as an all bureaucracies will fight this tooth and nail to survive. They will make up have-truths, slant and make up statements toward their favor in an attempt to show they are still needed and all knowing. This in my opinion is a solution waiting for a problem. There is no problem in the GA world. It is made up so some can keep a cushy gov’t job while creating an empire at the tax payers expense. All for what. This waste of money must be stopped and let private entities fund these ventures.

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