The FAA has released the new medical examination requirements and information documents (PDF) for pilots regarding sleep apnea risk and all U.S. pilots can expect to be asked questions about it and have their bodies measured at their next medical. The guidance follows the American Academy of Sleep Medicine risk criteria for the disorder, which has always been a disqualifying condition for flight medicals. The new protocol requires air medical examiners to specifically determine the risk for sleep apnea in each pilot and slot them into one of six categories depending on that risk. Those at high risk will likely have to undergo further tests and/or treatment to maintain their medical.
Sleep apnea is defined as abnormal breathing during sleep that causes the sufferer to wake up repeatedly during sleep. That, combined with long pauses in breathing that deprive the body of oxygen, results in daytime sleepiness and impaired cognitive and intellectual function. The FAA considers it a serious safety threat and has been trying for several years to take direct action against it. This latest measure has been generally regarded as a reasonable course of action that is far superior to the somewhat arbitrary guidance issued a year ago. In that proposal, some pilots would have been disqualified immediately based on their body mass index, regardless of whether they actually had sleep apnea.