LoBiondo, Larsen Applaud House Passage of Their Sleep Apnea Legislation to Ensure Safety of the Skies

Feb 12, 2014 Issues: Transportation & Infrastructure

Legislation Will Ensure FAA Conducts Open Rulemaking Process, Not Arbitrary Dictation of New Standards for Pilots Affected by Sleep Disorders

WASHINGTON  House Subcommittee on Aviation Chairman Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02) and Ranking Member Rick Larsen (WA-02) today applauded House passage of their bipartisan legislation (H.R. 3578) to ensure the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conducts an open rulemaking process before making changes to medical certification requirements for pilots with sleep disorders. The House passed the bill by voice vote on Tuesday evening.

“Today’s overwhelming vote sends a clear signal that a top priority of the House is the safety of our skies,” said Chairman LoBiondo.  “As the FAA continues to evaluate further health restrictions and safety guidelines to those who manage and operate in the national air space, it must do so via open rulemaking and while considering all viewpoints, including those of medical experts.”

“When it comes to flying, safety is my top priority,” Ranking Member Larsen said. “The House spoke clearly today that the FAA needs to address the issue of sleep apnea in an open and transparent way that lets all stakeholders and safety experts provide input. I thank Chairman LoBiondo for his leadership on this issue and I look forward to working with the FAA, pilots, airlines and others to continue making flying safer.”

Current FAA requirements dictate a pilot or air traffic controller diagnosed with sleep apnea to report their condition and seek treatment. The Aviation Medical Examiners Guide  – a comprehensive document detailing the FAA’s medical certification regulations, dispositions, and protocols – includes an established process that provides the FAA with the authority to issue or re-issue an airman medical certificate to an applicant that is diagnosed with sleep apnea. After a review process, the FAA ultimately decides whether or not to issue a medical certificate.  

In November 2013, the FAA announced a proposal to significantly – and arbitrarily – modify medical requirements for airmen who might be at risk of having a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea, even in the absence of any clinical evidence.  The FAA’s proposal would effectively assume overweight pilots have a sleep disorder based solely on their body mass index (BMI) and subject them to potentially expensive testing and evaluation. The FAA also indicated their intention to eventually broaden this policy to apply to air traffic controllers and possibly to pilots with a lower BMI. The LoBiondo-Larsen legislation approved today does not prohibit the FAA from implementing new medical certification requirements for sleep apnea. It does, however, require the agency to conduct an open rulemaking process if they choose to propose new sleep disorder requirements.

Modeled after similar legislation (H.R. 3095) signed into law on October 15th affecting commercial truck drivers, H.R. 3578 was introduced in December 2013 by LoBiondo and Larsen with Representatives Larry Bucshon (IN-08), Daniel Lipinski (IL-03) and Sam Graves (MO-06) as original cosponsors.