FAA Targets Sleep Apnea Dangers

 - November 27, 2013, 9:35 AM

Proposed legislation addressing sleep apnea will require pilots to be tested for sleep apnea, but maintenance personnel, who are not required to pass an FAA physical, are not addressed.

Sarah MacLeod, executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association, told AIN, “Legislating a solution to this issue is not the answer; almost anything can impact someone’s work. Unless and until there are objective criteria for measuring productivity in spite of or despite human frailties, I would not look for a ‘legal’ solution. There is no doubt a person with sleep apnea, or the wrong sleep pattern for a work schedule, or physical and emotional issues that impact performance, needs to be taught awareness and coping mechanisms. The law cannot prevent any individual or company from being irresponsible. Eventually there will be scientifically valid methods of measuring physical and mental capacities similar to breathalyzers. Until then, forget about it.” 

One of the leading causes of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is obesity, leading the FAA to craft a rule requiring pilots with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater to be screened for OSA before they can be issued their FAA medical.

In an interview with AIN, Dr. Lee-Chiong, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Denver, explained the relationship between BMI and OSA. “Above a BMI of 40, the prevalence of sleep apnea is 50 to 90 percent. Below a BMI of 30, 30 percent of the U.S. population has sleep apnea.”

The most common symptoms associated with OSA include waking up with a sore or dry throat; loud snoring; occasionally waking up with a choking or gasping sensation; and excessive daytime sleepiness.

NBAA maintains that the FAA should consult with industry stakeholders through the established rulemaking process before any rule is finalized.

The FAA Federal Air Surgeon’s plan to adopt a new policy to monitor overweight pilots at risk of obstructive sleep apnea has the aviation industry complaining of intrusive and unwanted attention. Is the FAA overstepping its mandate, which could cost some pilots their jobs, or does the air surgeon’s policy make safety sense? AIN will address this issue in the January 2014 issue and wants to hear what you think. Please contact senior editor Matt Thurber at mthurber@ainonline.com or (310) 306-4039. We will not reveal your name or any other identifying information.