The airline industry has long been fanatical about safety.
After all, there’s nothing natural about riding an aluminum tube miles above the earth at just under the speed of sound.
As a result of safety efforts, the U.S. has not had a major air crash in more than two decades. That’s because, after each crash or hazardous incident, investigators make thorough reviews that can provide safety recommendations to avoid the problem in the future.
Fanaticism about safety — something for which we can be grateful.
But there’s been growing concern about the recent revision of heart health standards for U.S. pilots, especially in the wake of mandated COVID vaccinations.
Last October, the Federal Aviation Administration revised the PR interval — an electrocardiogram measurement of electronic impulses in the heart — from a previous limit of 0.2 seconds to allowing pilots to fly with that measurement at 0.3 seconds.
That’s a health hazard, according to cardiologist Thomas E. Levy, who is also an attorney.
The 0.2 second limit has long been the standard, Levy said, except for young people, especially athletes. But a Harvard study of thousands of patients, which continued over 20 to 30 years, showed that the slightest increase above the 0.2-second level caused problems.
“The tiniest increase in the PR interval meant, over time, you had two times the chance of having atrial fibrillation, three times the chance of having an abnormal or a slow enough heart rate to need a pacemaker, and one and a half times the chance of dying from anything — all-cause mortality,” Levy said in a recent interview.
The FAA recently changed a critical metric by which it measures cardiac health for its pilots.
— Etana Hecht 🇮🇱 🇺🇸 (@EtanaHechtDC) January 15, 2023
The PR interval measurement increases not only with age, but also in individuals who have had COVID or received COVID vaccination, Levy said in a Jan. 3 news release from Orthomolecular Medicine News Service.
Pilots are being cleared to fly with what Levy says are potentially hazardous heart conditions.
“The FAA is currently changing its rules to allow more pilots to fly who have PR interval greater than 0.3 seconds, a development that should be of great concern to all who fly,” Levy said in the statement. “PR intervals that lengthen in the older population can presage significant heart problems, including early death.”
And he’s not the only one concerned about the FAA health revision.
U. S. Army Flight Surgeon Lt. Col. Theresa Long recently told Fox’s Tucker Carlson, “I would like to see the data and the research that they based that decision on,” she said.
“In aviation, we are a data-driven institution,” according to Long, who is chief flight surgeon at the U.S. Army Flight School at Fort Rucker, Alabama.
“So making that [electrocardiogram measurement] broader actually puts the public at greater risk of a pilot having a cardiac event that didn’t get caught because they’ve extended that range.”
Levy, regarding the FAA increasing the PR interval to 0.3 seconds, called it “a humongous raise” and said, “And one might ask — and I don’t know this for a fact — but it certainly applies to logic: Why would the FAA do this?
“Obviously, the FAA is seeing huge numbers of PR intervals greater than .2, but they don’t want to disqualify pilots or — even more significantly — subject them to extensive testing.”
Meanwhile, Josh Yoder, co-founder of medical freedom group Freedom Flyers, told the Aviation and Health Safety Summit Jan. 9 in Jacksonville, Florida, that “Something’s going on … we have a safety signal here” regarding pilot health and vaccination. He listed incidents where flight and cabin crew members have died, sometimes in flight.
“We have pilots that are operating in a defective state, whether knowingly or unknowingly,” Yoder said. “But I know of many cases of pilots that are currently flying and they’re having chest pain. They’re having neurological conditions.”
Air crews are reaching out for help, Yoder said, and the Freedom Flyers organization is attempting to provide aid, but some pilots, he said, are secretly being treated “off the books.”
“And this comes down to us. The FAA is not going to address this, most [airline] companies are not going to address this, because they mandated it, so they have criminal and civil liability.”
Carlson said Fox News contacted the FAA for comment on the heart measurement change: “They claim they — quote — ‘follow standard processes based on data and science.’
“Whatever that means,” Carlson said.
CORRECTION, Jan. 23, 2023: An earlier version of this article included a quote with a math error. That segment has been removed.
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