Concerns and controversy are swirling around the decision by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to alter an electrocardiogram test limit for pilots.
A researcher for an aviation advocacy group, US Freedom Flyers (USFF), stumbled upon the EKG change in December, several weeks after the FAA enacted it.
Because the revision was made without a published explanation, USFF turned to a nationally known cardiologist and other experts to assess its importance.
They say the FAA’s change involving “the PR interval” is significant. The PR interval represents the time it takes for an electrical impulse to travel from one part of the heart to another. It is an indicator of heart health.
But “the new normal” PR interval that the FAA set for pilots is 50 percent longer than the previous limit; it deviates from a long-accepted limit in cardiology.
Critics fear that expanding the limit could endanger pilots’ health and passengers’ safety.
This worry is especially acute amid rising reports of cardiac arrest and sudden death since the COVID pandemic began in 2020. Some researchers suggest that some heart conditions could be tied to aftereffects of COVID-19 injections or the virus. Because pilots were threatened with job termination, a large percentage of them took the COVID jabs.
These factors make a very worrisome mix, said Josh Yoder, a commercial airline pilot who heads the USFF advocacy group.
“This is a ticking time bomb on a level like we’ve never seen,” he told The Epoch Times in an interview.
Yoder and others say the FAA should be held accountable for relaxing the EKG standard. They say the new standard increases the odds that a pilot’s heart condition would slip past, undetected and untreated, setting the stage for disaster.
In an email to The Epoch Times on Jan. 17 the FAA, repeating language it sent out four months ago, said there is “no evidence of aircraft accidents or incapacitations caused by pilots suffering medical complications associated with COVID-19 vaccines,”
Critics allege that the FAA has found no such evidence because no investigation has been done.
Regarding the revised EKG standard, the FAA said: “When making changes to medical requirements and guidance, the FAA follows standard processes based on data and science.”
But the FAA has yet to reveal what data drove its decision to allow COVID injections for pilots. The agency has not disclosed the reasons for changing the acceptable range for pilots’ PR intervals.
Stephen Carbone, a former FAA safety inspector, takes issue with the FAA on both counts–allowing the COVID shots and the new EKG standard for pilots.
“The FAA’s decision to lower the EKG standards is the latest assault on aviation safety from an organization that has pledged to put aviation safety ahead of all else,” he said in a Jan. 22 email to The Epoch Times. “It is nothing short of safety sacrilege; to those of us in aviation, safety is sacred.”
Whatever the reason for the FAA’s change to the PR interval limit, Carbone is distressed over its possible consequences.
“I can’t highlight enough how dangerous this is and how irresponsible,” he said. “It risks the lives of pilots; it risks the lives of passengers; and it risks the lives of anyone in a house, apartment building, school, car, beach, park, or museum under the aircraft’s path.”
On an EKG reading, the PR interval indicates how well electrical impulses travel within the heart, “so the whole heart can contract at once,” cardiologist Dr. Thomas Levy, who serves as UFF’s medical adviser, told The Epoch Times.
A PR interval longer than 200 milliseconds (ms) is considered a red flag, said Florida-based Levy. Such a reading, by itself, doesn’t prove there is a heart problem.
Yet a reading above 200 ms does warrant further testing and “shouldn’t be ignored,” Levy said. That has been a given in cardiology for almost as long as EKGs have been used, Levy said.
That’s why, in Levy’s view, it makes no sense for the FAA to broaden the range significantly. Pilots with PR intervals longer than 200 ms used to require further evaluation. Now that happens when the pilots’ PR readings go beyond 300 ms.
Dr. Peter Chambers, a retired U.S. military Special Operations flight surgeon, agrees it was unwise for the FAA to change the PR interval limit.
“That removes the ‘safety zone’ that allows us to catch the problem early,” Chambers told The Epoch Times in an interview. “It’s like coming up on an intersection where the traffic light goes directly from green to red–and you’re in the center of the intersection, facing a semi that could hit you.”
“Maybe you get lucky, and the semi doesn’t hit you,” he said. “But how many times are you going to get lucky?”
Levy said PR intervals above 200 ms may indicate that the heart “is no longer completely healthy, and the conduction rate is slowing down.” He notes that PR readings tend to increase as a person ages, although some younger, healthy athletes have abnormally high PR intervals.
However, in many cases, a PR interval longer than 200 ms “is clearly associated with arrhythmias in the future, pacemakers, and early death,” Levy said, citing a respected Harvard study. He said those risks elevate with PR readings even slightly above 200 ms, not even close to the new 300 ms limit that the FAA has set.
In sum, Levy said, a PR interval longer than 200 ms “might be innocuous, but you can’t assume it to be innocuous,” particularly “in the setting of the pandemic.”
Levy says the FAA “has its head in the sand” by not requiring additional testing until a pilot exceeds the 300 ms PR reading.
The 2022 FAA Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners says pilots should be cleared to fly at levels under 300 ms, provided that the examiner has no concerns and the patient reports no symptoms.
That’s inadequate protection for the public, Levy said. Many people with myocarditis and other heart issues may notice no problems; a medical crisis can strike these people suddenly.
Levy was shocked to learn that the FAA hasn’t routinely required cardiac stress testing for pilots–a much better way to screen for heart health, he said. Levy sees EKGs as merely an indicator that no heart attack has occurred.
A pair of blood tests, which check for proteins called D-dimer and troponin, should be widely used screening tools, he said in a Jan. 5 publication.
While the D-dimer test checks for evidence of blood clotting, the troponin test can detect signs of damaged cardiac cells.
Levy said the troponin test is critical, not just for pilots.
“Everyone should have this test done, even if they are feeling perfectly well,” he wrote in the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service article. Thus, the tests can show a “normal” baseline for a person or detect any suspected low-grade myocardial inflammation.
Levy said he would avoid flying with any pilot registering abnormal results on either of those tests. Ditto for one with a 200-plus PR interval but no further testing.
“For the purposes of a safe flight, it doesn’t matter” what might be causing out-of-the-norm results, Levy said. What matters is that the problem is detected, investigated, and treated.
Some people have suggested that a pilot shortage, which pre-dates COVID, could have influenced FAA to make the PR interval change. The broadened range could give more leeway for older pilots to continue flying.
But Levy sees that as no justification for the changed PR interval and the lack of extra testing. He thinks the public should be “stunned and outraged,” and ought to demand accountability from the FAA.
Read the full story here.
Scroll down to leave a comment and share your thoughts.