Everything You Need to Know About Drug Testing in Aviation and Airline Companies
When President Ronald Reagan signed an Executive Order requiring federal agencies to create an employee drug testing program, the Department of Transportation responded by developing a comprehensive program and cascading it down to all DOT administrations, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to cover pilots and air traffic controllers. Today, drug screening is done for most occupations related to the transport and aviation industry from mechanics to baggage handlers.
Extensive studies indicate that drug use is actually uncommon among pilots, but because of the high level of performance needed for flight, drug use in aviation is closely monitored.
On top of the FAA regulations, most airlines implement their own drug abuse policies. Under these policies, employees with substance abuse violations are removed from safety-sensitive operations and given the choice to go on a treatment program after which they are allowed back to full duty. A second violation will result to disciplinary action or termination.
Background Screening & Drug Testing in Aviation and Airline Companies
Under Section 120 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, employers shall conduct drug testing in accordance with the DOT’s “Procedures for Transportation Workplace Drug Testing Programs” as follows:
• Pre-employment Drug Testing – no employer may hire any person for a safety-sensitive function or transfer any person from a non-safety sensitive function to a safety sensitive function without having first conducted a pre-employment drug test and having received a negative result for the same. This rule applies to transfers if more than 180 days have elapsed from the time for the original hiring/pre-employment drug test. The substances to be tested for are:
- Phencyclidine (PCP)
- A metabolite of the above-mentioned substances
• Random drug testing – this test shall be done on 50% of covered employees selected at random and without warning.
• Post-accident/post-incident drug testing – this test is to be done on an employee whose performance contributed to an accident, no later than 32 hours after the accident
• Reasonable-cause drug testing – if it is reasonably suspected that an employee in a security and safety-sensitive function used a prohibited substance as demonstrated by physical, behavioral and performance indicators.
• Return to duty drug testing – this test is given to an employee after previously testing positive or refusing to submit to testing (and was therefore removed from work) before being allowed back to work.
• Follow-up drug testing – this test is for employees who have previously passed a return-to-duty test. Most DOT programs require 6 follow-up tests the first year from returning to duty, to continue for up to 5 years.
Under Section 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, employers in the aviation and airline industry are required to run comprehensive background checks on all candidates for employment. The most recent updates to this requirement are the real-time, recurring criminal background checks for aviation workers including airline employees. Additionally, fingerprint-based background checks will be done on airport workers who hold Secure Identification Display Area (SIDA) badges.
Drug Testing Methods
• Hair drug test – this is the best method for detecting long-term substance use. A 1.5-inch sample of hair cut close to the scalp will provide a 90-day substance use history. Available hair tests include laboratory collection hair test or the self-collection hair test which can have rapid results in 2 days.
• Urine drug test – this is the most technologically developed method. Instant test kits come in a variety of forms including:
- Integrated test cups
- Instant drug testing dip cards
- Instant drug testing cassettes
- Instant drug testing dip strips
Advantages of Urine Test:
- Easy and convenient to use
- Readily available
- Can detect drug use from 1 - 7 days after usage for most drugs; upto 15 days for Phenobarbital and up to 30 days for long-term heavy use ofmarijuana.
• Saliva drug test – this is the least invasive of all drug testing methods and ideal for on-the-spot/on-site testing. It is steadily gaining in popularity because of its affordability, accuracy and convenience. It is also impossible to cheat.
Only (a very impressive) 0.06% of pilots and air traffic controllers have a confirmed positive drug test, according to the FAA. The top 3 (illegal) substances that have been found in connection to aircraft mishaps are: