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Sorting Out Latest on Sleep Apnea Rules

April 3, 2014 - The FAA has refined its controversial sleep apnea proposal for pilots and airmen medical certification after considerable backlash from the aviation community and Congress. While sleep apnea remains an area of emphasis for the FAA aeromedical leadership, the efforts by EAA and EAA's Aeromedical Advisory Council helped create a path toward a sensible solution.

The highly contentious plan to require a sleep apnea test and evaluation prior to approval of a medical certificate, based solely on a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or above, is no longer part of the FAA policy. The agency has developed a new policy that would allow a tiered approach to addressing potential sleep apnea problems while enabling a pilot to maintain a current certificate while any assessment takes place.

"Pilots should not be automatically forced into an expensive sleep apnea evaluation and out of the cockpit based on a single risk factor," said Sean Elliott, EAA's vice president of advocacy and safety. "The pilot community and the aeromedical community have given their input, and we're pleased that FAA used that input to make the necessary changes in its policy. The incoming Federal Air Surgeon has indicated that he has no interest in enacting a sweeping policy that would add financial and regulatory burdens to pilots."

After the initial sleep apnea policy was announced in November 2013, EAA made numerous contacts throughout the FAA to express its concerns. EAA's Aeromedical Council also directly contacted FAA's medical officials to express its professional opinion that the policy had little relation to flight safety for recreational operations.

EAA also helped involve Congress, which had earlier introduced legislation requiring full rulemaking for similar sleep apnea policies on commercial highway vehicle operators. Congress reacted by introducing legislation that would demand similar rulemaking for sleep apnea policies in aviation.

"EAA continues to be vigilant to ensure that pilots don't have overbearing, prescriptive policies put in their way of maintaining a medical certificate," Elliott added. "EAA will continue to work with the FAA to find the right balance." 
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