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FAA Moves Forward With New Apnea Policy

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Despite a quick and loud uproar from pilot advocacy groups about planned changes in sleep-apnea assessment by medical examiners, the FAA moved forward this week with its new policy, publishing a "Fact Sheet" online. In the new Fact Sheet, posted on Tuesday, the FAA says it is "not changing its medical standards related to OSA [obstructive sleep apnea]." However, the FAA is "considering requiring AMEs to calculate the BMI [body mass index] for each pilot and air traffic controller using a formula provided by the FAA." Applicants with a BMI of 40 or more must be evaluated for OSA. "Anyone diagnosed with OSA must be treated before they can be medically certificated, which is not new," the Fact Sheet states. However, requiring AMEs to calculate the BMI and then require a sleep assessment based on that calculation, would be new. The FAA also notes that pilots diagnosed with OSA must apply for a special issuance medical certificate.

The Fact Sheet also provides more details about the FAA's justification for its concerns. The NTSB cited OSA as a contributing factor in an incident in February 2008, when both pilots aboard a Mesa Airlines flight fell asleep in the cockpit. "The captain had undiagnosed OSA," the FAA said. The FAA said the NTSB database reveals 34 accidents, 32 of which were fatal, involving people who had sleep apnea, and 294 incidents involving some type of sleep disorder, although sleep apnea was not listed as a cause in any of these reports. The FAA said it "will continue to work with aviation stakeholder groups and the medical community to provide clear guidance on any upcoming changes to medical policies." BMI is calculated based on height and weight. A BMI of 40 for an individual 5 feet 8 inches tall would be 262 pounds, according to a table published by the National Institutes of Health.

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