FAA to require sleep apnea screening for obese pilots

Washington – Pilots with a body mass index of 40 or higher – an advanced level of obesity – will soon be required to be screened for obstructive sleep apnea during routine medical certification exams.

The new policy was announced in a bulletin from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Federal Air Surgeon Fred Tilton, who stated that the official policy will be released “shortly.” Currently, aviation workers who are diagnosed with OSA, which is characterized by sudden breathing pauses during sleep and has been linked to obesity, must undergo treatment from a board-certified sleep specialist in order to be medically certified to work.

OSA reduces the likelihood of receiving restful sleep and has “significant safety implications” due to symptoms such as excessive daytime sleepiness and cognitive impairment, Tilton stated. Future policies also will require air traffic controllers with a 40 or higher BMI to be screened, as well as pilots and controllers with BMI measurements lower than 40.

Fatigue and other sleep-related factors have been identified as contributing factors to multiple serious or fatal transportation incidents in recent years.