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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

No Scientific Evidence

Lee Benson

By Lee Benson
I seem to be stuck in a rut. My last several articles have related to concerns about regulatory overreach by bureaucrats or the new FAA Advisory Circular regarding heliports. I really try hard not to be a boring writer, but some issues need to be exposed. Granted this stuff is not near as interesting as “There I was at a 100-foot hover.” Recently, the FAA, without adhering to its own normal rulemaking procedures, proposed a change in medical certification policy. The proposed change would require your Air Medical Examiner (AME) to calculate your body mass index (BMI). If this index exceeds a certain parameter, you would have to undergo and pass an obstructive sleep apnea study before said flight doc could issue your medical certification. If you failed the test and where found to have sleep apnea you would not be eligible for a medical certification until the issue was resolved.

The Civil Aviation Medical Association (CAMA) – otherwise known as the special interest group that your flight examiner belongs to – has responded to this with seven specific objections. All the objections are well stated in an article in HAI’s “Rotor News” on Dec. 12, 2013. But I will only quote one: “No scientific study or evidence suggests obesity or obstructive sleep apnea poses a safety of flight risk.” Think about this for a second. FAA is considering violating its own set policy and procedures regarding rulemaking, to enact a policy change that will – notice dear reader I said will, not could – require some number of pilots to spend significant amounts of money on a medical test and be unable to work for some period of time. The two together could run into tens of thousands of dollars. I think it needs to be asked where is the emergent need for the FAA to sidestep its own rules to cause all this havoc. Have we seen an epidemic rise in pilot medical incapacitations? Has there been a high profile accident that the FAA is trying to politically mitigate? This reminds me of the public safety operator who proudly informed me that they had set a new policy that capped pilot flight hours, unless of course it was an emergency. My question was when would you ever see yourself approaching that level of flight time unless it was an emergency operation? That’s what you do for a living.

I’m not an anarchist, I would support the FAA latitude to react administratively in a situation where immediate action was needed to provide for the public’s safety. Last time I checked, folks with less than desirable BMIs have been flying aircraft since Wilber said “watch this.” If the FAA feels comfortable ignoring its own internal policy on such a non-emergent basis, then why have a policy in the first place?

Not to beat a dead equine, but stop and think what ramifications in the pilot hiring practices this “no scientific study or evidence....” might make. Are you as a chief pilot for a Part 135 operator going to hire a pilot that may get his medical pulled at a critical time based on this? No, I didn’t think so. Policies have consequences beyond your comfortable office in Oklahoma City.

The paragraph in the Meet the Contributors section of this magazine does a good job of stating what I did in the past. I need to change it to what I do now. What I do now is I have my own consulting company. I work for a diverse group of companies and face issues of conflict of interest on a fairly regular basis. This is one of those times, so that’s the reason for the preamble. In my role as a consultant I have recently spoken with Dale Farr, who is the rotary wing sales manager for Astronics Corp., which developed and built the Max-Viz enhanced vision system. This long wave uncooled infrared system is very interesting and I have had the opportunity for a demonstration flight of the system in the past. I was impressed with the system and could see it as a considerable safety tool in helicopter operations. What I did not consider at the time was the benefits of integrating Maz-Viz with night vision goggle (NVG) technology. Dale has an impressive background in complex missions and from that unique perspective, he started to explain how Max-Viz and NVG could complement each other. I don’t want to produce a commercial here. I’m just suggesting that those of you that perform complex missions at night should take a look at the available technology that’s now on the market.


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