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