NBAA concerns reflected in FAA’s new sleep apnea policy
Jan. 26, 2015, Washington, D.C. - The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) today said that new guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on its once-controversial plan for testing pilots for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) now reflects a practical approach from the Association and other general aviation (GA) groups for addressing the condition, without compromising flight safety.
“This new guidance, developed with NBAA’s input, reflects a pivot for the agency, which combines common sense with clinical discipline,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. Particularly noteworthy for Bolen is that, under the new guidance, pilots will be able to continue to fly while being evaluated for OSA.
The FAA’s new screening directive comes in the wake of plans, unveiled by the agency late in 2013, that the agency would consider requiring any pilot with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater, and a neck size of 17 inches or greater, to undergo OSA screening prior to receiving a medical certificate.
The FAA’s late-2013 guidance on OSA alarmed NBAA and other aviation groups, which mobilized the industry, bringing congressional attention to the agency’s plans. Capitol Hill lawmakers took notice of those efforts, with both the House and Senate acting on legislation that would have compelled the agency to consider industry input before enacting any changes.
In testimony provided for a House aviation subcommittee hearing in December 2013, Bolen expressed his continuing concern about implementation of an OSA-screening requirement without first seeking comment from aviation stakeholders. Read the written testimony Bolen submitted to the aviation subcommittee in its entirety.
On Jan. 23, 2015, the FAA’s federal air surgeon shared with NBAA and other GA organizations its revised plans for aviation medical examiners (AMEs) regarding screening for OSA. Set to take effect on March 2, the new AME guidance will not rely on a pilot’s BMI to diagnose OSA; instead the new policy states: “The risk of OSA will be determined by an integrated assessment of history, symptoms and physical/clinical findings,” and must incorporate guidance from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine in determining pilots’ airworthiness.
Along with a broader, more practical view of a pilot’s overall health situation, the FAA’s new guidance will also facilitate an easier process for individuals who exhibit a series of OSA symptoms to receive a medical diagnosis by their own health care provider, not just sleep specialists. Additionally, the FAA has provided up to 90 days for pilots required to receive additional evaluation to provide documentation to an AME. Pilots can also request an additional 30 days if they notify their AME.
While some clarity is needed from the FAA on how pilots diagnosed with OSA who begin an approved course of treatment will be addressed, the federal air surgeon has assured the aviation community that further details will be forthcoming to explain how pilots can retain their flying status while addressing an OSA diagnosis. In the meantime, NBAA’s website has information on the situation, and the Association’s efforts to ensure that industry’s concerns are understood.