FAA Backpedals On Sleep Apnea

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The FAA has backpedaled considerably on its previous sleep apnea policy proposal. The highly controversial plan to require expensive sleep clinic testing based solely on body mass index appears to be dead. As AVweb reported last year, outgoing Federal Air Surgeon Fred Tilton announced, without consultation with aviation groups or the doctors that do flight medicals, that any pilot with a BMI greater than 40 would have flight privileges suspended and be automatically required to be assessed by an accredited sleep specialist to prove that he or she did not have obstructive sleep apnea. Under the proposed new rules, assessment may still be required, but the certificate will remain valid until it's completed. “While some details still need to be worked out, the draft guidelines developed by FAA represent a significant step in the right direction over the policy announced last year,” Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs, said in a news release. “FAA has heard the concerns of AOPA members and responded with a more appropriate approach that will keep pilots flying.” 

AMEs have been asking questions about sleep apnea since 2009 and under the new policy if they think a pilot needs further assessment, it can be done by a regular doctor and not a sleep specialist as previously required. It will be up to the second-opinion doctor whether an expensive sleep test ($3,000 or more) is required. The issue prompted bills in both the House and Senate to require the FAA to go through the rulemaking process to enact its previous proposal.