The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently announced plans to issue new medical guidance to Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs) regarding the obstructive sleep apnea screening approach for pilots in the United States.
According to an FAA press release, the medical standards related to obstructive sleep apnea will remain unchanged, meaning that untreated OSA will remain a disqualifying medical condition among pilots. However, after incorporating industry and Congressional feedback on the OSA screening approach that helps AMEs diagnose sleep apnea, the FAA has made some revisions to this particular guidance.
The screening approach that the FAA originally proposed in November 2013 would have required treatment for pilots with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more and grounded them until they successfully completed treatment.
After members of Congress and industry stakeholders expressed concern over this screening approach, the FAA made key revisions that the press release states will “improve safety and pilot health by reducing the burdens and disincentives that may have prevented some pilots from seeking an OSA evaluation and treatment.”
Under the new medical guidance, “BMI alone will not disqualify a pilot or require an OSA evaluation,” states an FAA fact sheet. The fact sheet continues:
“The risk for OSA will be determined by an integrated assessment of history, symptoms, and physical/clinical findings. […] Pilots who are at risk for OSA will be issued a regular medical certificate and referred for an evaluation which may be done by any physician (including the AME), not just a sleep medicine specialist, following AASM guidelines. If an evaluation is required, a laboratory sleep study or home study will not be required unless the evaluating physician determines it is warranted. The pilot may continue flying during the evaluation period and treatment, if indicated. The airman will have 90 days (or longer under special circumstances) to accomplish this.”
The new guidance will take effect on March 2, 2015.
The FAA reports that there are currently 4,917 FAA-certificated pilots who receive treatment for OSA and are able to continue flying. This is thanks in part to the effectiveness of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, the gold-standard treatment for OSA.
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