Sleep apnea is a condition that often leads to fatigue and is associated with several health problems. The Federal Aviation Administration has released an order that will lead to sleep apnea testing among many pilots and air traffic control personnel. The measure was likely taken in response to several incidents involving pilots and air traffic controllers sleeping on the job. The policy calls for sleep apnea testing for workers who have a body mass index of 40 or higher and a neck circumference of at least 17 inches. According to the FAA federal air surgeon, sleep apnea is extremely common among people who meet those criteria.
Commercial and private pilots, alike, will be subjected to sleep apnea testing if they meet the criteria. The federal air surgeon indicated that testing will likely be expanded to pilots and controllers with lower BMIs once the initial group has completed testing. Any pilot who is identified as suffering from sleep apnea will need to undergo treatment before they can obtain medical certification to continue flying.
The FAA acknowledged that the new policy addressed a recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board. Immediate reaction to the policy included one suggestion that it is a broad response to a single incident. The Air Line Pilots Association is still reviewing the policy while the National Air Traffic Controllers Association has so far declined to comment.
The commercial trucking industry has taken steps to address the issue of sleep apnea. Exhaustion is a significant problem in the transportation industry. The condition, if left untreated, can lead to heart problems and other complications, according to the Mayo Clinic. Moreover, it can lead to dangerous levels of tiredness even in people who have received a full night of sleep.
Source: CNN Travel, "FAA: All overweight pilots, controllers must be tested for sleep disorders," by Mike M. Ahlers and Rene Marsh, 20 November 2013