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Obesity Screening for Airplane Pilots

airplane-landing-at-waashington-dc - Alex Grichenko - Pub DomObesity Screening for Airplane Pilots

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has moved to increase medical scrutiny of overweight and obese pilots, a group who are at greater risk suffering from sleep disorders, including sleep apnea. Those deemed to be at greater risk of these conditions will have to be evaluated regularly by a physician who is also a sleep specialist. If sleep apnea or other sleep disorder is diagnosed, the pilot will be required to undergo treatment before being allowed to return to the controls. The increased scrutiny is part of a larger effort to increase aviation safety. Undiagnosed and untreated sleep disorders can cause sleep deprivation, chronic fatigue, cardiac problems, cognitive impairment, high blood pressure and personality disturbances. In the case of pilots, it can also lead to unscheduled sleeping while at the controls of the plane.

New Screening Guidelines

There are an estimated 600,000 active pilots, including commercial pilots, students, and others in the United States. Each must undergo regular health examinations to maintain his or her license. The new guidelines add calculation of BMI (body-mass-index) to the physical exam. For pilots with BMI over 40, measurement of neck circumference is also required. Those with neck circumference of 17 inches or more must be evaluated professionally for sleep apnea.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), a national membership organization of private pilots, notes that approximately 125,000 private and weekend pilots were identified as obese in a 2011 FAA study. The organization estimates the cost of screening for sleep apnea at between $99 million and $374 million over the course of several years.

Addition of screening for sleep disorders was spurred by recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board in 2009, which noted that the FAA required less testing than other federal transportation regulatory agencies. While falling asleep on the job is not a common cause of airplane accidents, it has been identified in at least 6 instances in which both pilots fell asleep on long flights, sometimes overflying their destination and losing contact with air traffic controllers. The board notes that commercial pilots with sleep apnea represent a sizable safety hazard due to under-diagnosis of the condition and increasing rates of obesity.

Steps are underway to begin evaluation of air traffic controllers as well, though specific requirements are not yet in place.

Advanced Surgical Associates Offers Weight-Loss Surgery

The physicians and staff of Advanced Surgical Associates specialize in medical treatment of obesity related conditions. For patients who have not been successful with other weight reduction and control measures, bariatric (weight-loss) surgery can provide an effective treatment. Individuals who suffer from sleep apnea, a condition closely linked to excess weight, can benefit from such treatment.

Contact us today for a confidential evaluation of your weight-related health condition.