When the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed its new sleep apnea screening rules for pilots, it was met with a wave of protests by the pilots’ lobbying groups and backed off. Then the House and the Senate passed bills to force the rule change FAA had agreed to. Now the agency has announced less restrictive sleep apnea screening for pilots.
No Mandatory Testing
Under the proposed rules, FAA would no longer automatically require pilots with a BMI of more than 40 to be tested for sleep apnea. Although the agency notes that the sleep apnea rate is nearly 100% for people with a BMI of 40 and a neck circumference of 17 inches, it states that there will be no mandatory criteria. Pilots with significant risk factors would be referred to their physician to talk about sleep apnea risk. If the physician recommends it, testing would be conducted, which included a polysomnogram, but wouldn’t have to be taken at a sleep center. It could be done with an at-home test.
The FAA’s own statistics support dropping the mandatory testing. Of the 4917 pilots diagnosed with sleep apnea and still flying with treatment, only 347 (7%) have a BMI of 40 or greater.
Effective Treatment Required
However, FAA is not budging on the absolute nature of its opposition to letting pilots with sleep apnea fly, “Untreated OSA [obstructive sleep apnea] has always been and will continue to be a disqualifying medical condition.” (Emphasis original.) FAA says that if a pilot is diagnosed with sleep apnea he/she must have effective treatment. Unlike the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), FAA stops short of requiring CPAP, although it does note that CPAP is often the most effective treatment. Instead, FAA requires a data-driven approach to sleep apnea treatment, saying that, whether a pilot uses CPAP or an oral appliance, there must be evidence that the treatment is working in terms of sleep data and in terms of the adjustments undertaken to tailor the treatment to its specific effects. Doctors must present data from all sleep apnea treatment used, including medications.
In addition, FAA requires regular checks to make sure that pilots’ sleep apnea treatments are working.
If you are looking for an effective sleep apnea treatment alternative to CPAP, the Advanced Sleep Treatment Center in Omaha can help. Please call 402-493-4175 today for an appointment.