Lifestyle cleared for take-off

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

WASHINGTON - The AirSep Lifestyle portable oxygen concentrator is one step closer to being sanctioned for use on U.S. airliners under a proposed new Federal Aviation Administration rule.

Published in the July 14 edition of the Federal Register, the FAA proposal endorses the Lifestyle for in-flight use on domestic commercial aircraft. Although “an important step” toward becoming official policy, the agency is seeking comments for continued review.

While waiting for a final decision to be made, AirSep President Joe Priest is encouraged by the ruling, call it “a great win for patients and the airlines.”

So far, the FAA has sanctioned only Buffalo, NY-based AirSep’s Lifestyle, though the agency is also evaluating the Inogen One portable concentrator from Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Inogen.

The HME industry has been lobbying to get the measure passed for more than two years. Bob Fary, vice president of sales for Inogen has been at the forefront of the issue. Despite the lack of policy finalization, Fary believes significant progress has been made so far.

“There are things that still need to be worked out, but I’m confident they will be,” he said.

A key ally in the effort is Sen. Mike Crapo, R-ID, who chairs the Congressional COPD Caucus.

“This is something the COPD Caucus has been working on since its formation earlier this year and I am pleased that we have been able to achieve this success,” Crapo said in a published statement. “This rule will make it easier for the caucus to push for other efforts making life easier for COPD patients.”

Stationary oxygen concentrators have been allowed on planes for more than 10 years, owned and operated by the airlines similarly to the onboard defibrillators that were mandated a few years ago. By allowing passengers to operate their own portable concentrators, the airlines would no longer have to furnish them, Priest said. Ironically though, most airlines appear reluctant to relinquish that responsibility at this point.

“It’s a control issue for them,” said Priest, adding that some international carriers already allow in-flight portable concentrator usage. “They have an intricate web of procedures already in place and are extremely careful about changing them.”

Ideally, patients will have the freedom to use their own systems, Fary added.

“What we’re after is patients being able to use their units the same way we use laptops,” he said. “At this point we’re happy that the FAA has recognized how important it is and we’ll continue to work with them to make travel for oxygen patients as seamless as possible.”

Priest is optimistic that getting the FAA’s endorsement will translate into more sales of the Lifestyle unit as oxygen patients intimidated by the logistics of air travel may feel more comfortable if they can use their own portable concentrator.

“Traveling by plane has always been burdensome for patients,” he said. “If there are flight delays or cancellations, that patient has to worry about being stuck at the airport for hours, wondering where to get oxygen. But if you’re traveling with the Lifestyle, it’s not an issue. They can run indefinitely by switching between AC and battery power.”

Oxygen travel advocates like Tim Arceneaux are encouraged by the news.

“This sounds awesome,” said Arceneaux, vice president of sales and operations for Littleton Respiratory Homecare, Wilmington, Ohio. “It will liberate a lot of traveling oxygen patients. It will encourage them to get out more and enjoy life.”