After laying the groundwork with months of public education efforts, the FAA on Wednesday confirmed it plans to implement a new policy requiring special screening of pilots with excess weight or other factors that increase their risk of suffering from sleep apnea. To maintain their licenses, those aviators will have to be evaluated by a physician who is a sleep specialist.
The FAA eventually also plans to expand the effort to identify air-traffic controllers at greater risk for sleep apnea.
Once a pilot has been diagnosed with the condition—marked by sleep deprivation that causes daytime fatigue—he or she will have to undergo treatment before getting approval to return to the controls.
In a statement, the FAA said the updated guidelines to physicians are designed to help pilots and boost aviation safety "by improving the diagnosis of unrecognized or untreated" forms of the sleep disorder.
For private or weekend pilots especially, the impact could be dramatic. In 2011, the FAA identified about 125,000 pilots who were considered obese, making them potential candidates for testing under an expanded policy, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the largest national membership organization representing private aviators. There...