The U.S. Federal Air Surgeon has reportedly given FAA Aeromedical Examiners (AMEs) a new directive to test pilots with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or greater for sleep apnea as a condition of granting any class of FAA medical certificate. FAA’s stated plan is to add this requirement to pilots of progressively lower BMIs until presumably at some point most or all pilots would be required to test for sleep apnea as a routine part of FAA medical examinations.
ABS strongly opposes this change because FAA has provided no evidence supporting such a new requirement that would add an estimated $2500 to the cost of even a third-class medical certificate as a result of FAA’s arbitrary policy change, and because the FAA Aeromedical Branch has bypassed the public comment period for new rulemaking. After consultation with the regulatory affairs staves of both the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), ABS will very shortly send a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration strongly opposing this policy and calling for public hearings and a public comment period to address the change and the manner in which it was made.
There is no question that pilot fatigue plays an unknown factor in at least some general aviation accidents. The trouble is that pilot fatigue is virtually never a focus of NTSB investigations of general aviation accidents, and therefore is not quantified in any way. The aviation industry has noted for many years that there is no science to measure the effects of fatigue on general aviation pilots, or the specific factors that determine a pilot is or is not “too tired to fly.”
Pilots are required to self-certify their fitness for every flight, including a determination of their fatigue state. From a fatigue standpoint, however, there is no science that shows a difference between the pilot who may experience fatigue as a result of sleep apnea and one who is fatigued because he worked late the night before, a sick child kept the pilot awake half the night, a pilot who lives at sea level but spent the night at a high elevation airport during a cross-country trip, or a pilot with a BMI of 17 who ran a marathon the day before. Regardless of the cause, the pilot must evaluate his or her fatigue state prior to and during flight, and make a go/no-go decision taking fatigue into account. In this respect sleep apnea is no different than other causal factors for fatigue, and therefore should not be singled out in the form of a 3100% increase in the average cost of a third-class medical certificate.
ABS suspects a great many pilots will stop flying if faced with this incredible and unsubstantiated biennial (or more frequent) expense.
As written recently in ABS Magazine
, developing an official position to a proposed regulatory change takes time and requires some research. However, this particular case looks clear-cut. We have not seen any science that supports an objective basis for this proposed change, and strongly object to its implementation without substantiation and a public comment period.
Should this get to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) stage ABS will challenge FAA to show data to prove a correlation between sleep apnea and NTSB accident rates. We would compare such a new ruling to a proposed Airworthiness Directive (AD) and demand FAA develop a risk assessment as it does with proposed ADs, to see whether the available data (if any exists) meets the FAA's own standard for a change in rulemaking.