AOPA sent a letter yesterday to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, insisting that the agency withdraw its new policy on obstructive sleep apnea or, alternatively, go through the formal rulemaking process. The proposed policy would initially affect pilots who have a body mass index (BMI) of more than 40, but could 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 medically disqualified and have to undergo treatment before regaining their medical certificates.
The letter noted that other less intrusive options already exist, including teaching pilots how to properly self-assess their fitness to fly. AOPA also argued that there is no evidence to support the safety benefits of the new policy, pointing out that there have been no cases in which sleep apnea was a causal or contributing factor in a fatal general aviation accident over the past decade.
In 2011, the FAA identified 124,973 airmen who are considered obese, making them potential candidates for testing under an expanded policy, AOPA said. The association estimates the cost to pilots of such testing at between $99 million and $374 million.