WASHINGTON – The House voted Tuesday to slow down the Federal Aviation Administration’s effort to start testing overweight pilots and air-traffic controllers for sleep disorders.
The legislation approved by voice vote aims to block FAA from immediately requiring tests for sleep disorders based on a pilot’s weight or neck size, as the agency announced in November. Instead, the FAA could adopt the standard as part of a formal rulemaking process, which could take months or years. The Senate must still consider the legislation.
The FAA proposal aimed to calculate each pilot’s Body Mass Index, a calculation based on weight and height, when they are examined every six months or a year. Anyone with a BMI of at least 40 or who has at least a 17-inch neck would have to be evaluated by a sleep specialist, because of a concern that overweight pilots could suffer sleep apnea and perform poorly at work.
“It’s a scenario of being guilty before being proved innocent,” said Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J. and chairman of the aviation subcommittee. “The potential costs to these pilots could be thousands of dollars.”
LoBiondo said the legislation wouldn’t prevent FAA from adopting the change, but that the agency would have to go through a formal rulemaking process to do so.
A general-aviation pilot, Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., called the standards “arbitrary” and “egregious.”
“Today Congress is acting against the FAA’s egregious assumption that these pilots pose a safety risk if untreated,” Graves said.
A doctor, Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., said sleeping disorders are incredibly serious and can be dangerous.
“However, I also know that you can’t diagnose any patient by a set of arbitrary guidelines and stereotypes,” Bucshon said.