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NTSB recommends pilot screening for Sleep Apnea

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Well-known member
Nov 28, 2001

The NTSB has issued several recommendations in response to the February 13th, 2008 incident involving two go! airline pilots falling asleep and overshooting the airport at Hilo, Hawaii. Among them is to change the medical certificate application to specifically ask if the airman has sleep apnea and to identify high risk individuals.

According to the safety recommendation, studies have concluded that the go! airlines flight, operated by Mesa Airlines, wan not an isolated incident. Information contained in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) reveled that from 1995 to 2007 there were 17 reported instances of at least one pilot falling asleep and in five of those, both pilots did. In addition, NASA found that 80% of pilots from 26 regional airlines had “nodded off” at one time or another, according to those responding to a 1999 survey.

Concerning the NTSB is the disconnect between the general population prevalence of sleep apnea and the pilot group. It is estimated that 7% of adults suffers from some form of sleep apnea, while only 0.5% of pilots holding a 1st Class medical have indicated to the FAA. One of the contributing factors to the go! airline’s captain falling asleep was his undiagnosed sleep apnea, causing increased daytime fatigue.

Several of the recommendation to the FAA are to:

1. Change the Application for Airman Medical Certificate to ask specific questions regarding sleep apnea.

2. Develop and utilize a program to identify those who may be susceptible to sleep apnea to be evaluated and treated before granting an unrestricted medical certificate.

3. Conduct research on fatigue of short-haul operations.

4. Require short-haul operators to modify operations based on recommendations provided by the research identified by the above recommendation #3.
Go listen to the log-sawing competition in the crew room and you can tell who has sleep apnea!
Any pilot who is more than 15-20 lbs. overweight probably has some form of sleep apnea. I'm guessing that's probably over 50% of all pilots operating in the 121 world. Oh no, better yank the medicals of all those airmen for more testing. Let's just shut down the entire airline industry for 12-18 months while were at it. Gimme a break!
Go listen to the log-sawing competition in the crew room and you can tell who has sleep apnea!

Not necessarily true. I thought I had sleep apnea, as I do snore at night. I went and had a sleep study, and found out that my snoring is more of a component of my recent 25 pound weight gain. But it was not apnea, which is determined by a) number of times one wakes up per hour and b) blood/oxygen levels while sleeping.

The only way to find out is to have a sleep study done.

Bottom line is, all sleep apnea sufferers snore, but not all snorers have sleep apnea.

NTSB recs seem to get a bit far fetched sometimes. I wouldn't bet on anything happening. Probably 80% of pilots would fail the test if they came off a brutal 4 or 5 day trip.
You will see changes with respect to airmen medical certificates due to Sleep Apnea. It's a continuing problem that is undiagnosed in a large majority of pilots, only because they aren't tested for it. Chances are, if you meet certain height and weight criteria in the not so distant future you will be required to be tested. The AME's are even starting to recommend sleep studies now and due to the heightened popularity of pilot fatigue, they aren't letting as many cases by.

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