A new policy is being implemented very soon by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which will have major impact on obese pilots. Severely obese pilots will be required to undergo sleep apnea screening, and if they are diagnosed with the condition, they will be required to undergo treatment before receiving their medical certificate.
ABC News reported that the new policy comes 5 years after a high-profile accident involving 2 pilots who feel asleep while flying between islands in Hawaii, passing over the intended airport for landing. The captain was obese and had sleep apnea.
Although is person considered obese if they have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater, the policy requires that all pilots with a BMI of 40 of greater undergo sleep apnea testing by a board-certified sleep specialists. Air traffic controllers will eventually be included in the new policy as well.
Obstructive sleep apnea is mostly common in obese individuals with a BMI over 40 and a neck circumference 17 inches or more. Up to 30% of individuals with a BMI less than 30 have sleep apnea. Gradually the FAA will expand the testing pool going to lower BMI measurements until they’ve assured treatment for every pilot with the sleep disorder.
Note that sleep apnea is a disorder that is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, leading to disrupted sleep. It is detrimental to safety as it is linked to a number of health conditions including hypertension, sudden cardiac death, and it also promotes daytime sleepiness.
The policy is wonder news for the safety of pilots and passengers but, CNN noted that it could affect as many as 125,000 commercial and private pilots.
You may not be a pilot or air traffic controller, but getting yourself screened for sleep apnea is just as important. The most common treatment is continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), and also weight loss has been shown to improve sleep apnea. It’s time to consult with your physician today!