Sobering Facts On Airline
(August 8, 2002)
Recent cases of intoxicated pilots for America West
and Atlantic Southeast Airlines (Delta Commuter) have some
passengers wondering about those in the cockpit. While the concern
is understandable, passengers should think twice before asking
pilots about their sobriety.
Safety is no joking
According to media reports, several pilots who
have had their sobriety questioned by passengers have reacted boldly
by removing passengers from the flight or by delaying the flight to
take a blood alcohol test.
As a former flight attendant,
I've witnessed the full wrath of a pilot unjustly accused of
drinking by a passenger. In 1991, I was working a flight in the wake
of a similar sobriety incident at Northwest. During boarding, a
young man poked his head in the cockpit and jokingly asked if our
pilots were "drunk." Our captain became furious and jumped out of
the cockpit, telling the man to meet him out on the jetway. The
captain gave the passenger a good tongue-lashing regarding the
recklessness of his joke. He then offered to delay the flight to
take a drug and alcohol test. Eventually, the passenger apologized
and was allowed to reboard without delaying the flight.
The rules and drug testing
Administration (FAA) regulations prohibit pilots and flight
attendants from flying within eight hours of ingesting alcohol.
However, most airlines have set more restrictive limits. Airline
officials I contacted for this story remain mum on exact timeframe.
However, most U.S. carriers have set a limit of 12 hours, a few 24
hours, and some have imposed "dry layovers," regardless of the
length of time. On top of that, most airlines have a zero-tolerance
policy, whereby any crewmember could be fired if determined to be
To combat drug and alcohol abuse, all U.S.
carriers subject employees to drug testing during the hiring process
and randomly while on duty.
According to FAA documents,
pre-employment testing has the largest number of positives, thus
keeping substance abusers from getting into the aviation industry in
the first place. In addition to the testing, airlines have
tremendous peer identification programs, which assists employees in
need. If an employee does have a dependence problem, they can be
returned to duty after evaluation by a substance abuse professional,
successful completion of a rehab program, and a negative result on a
return-to-duty drug test.
- Each year, 25 percent of aviation employees are expected to be
randomly tested for drugs, 10 percent for alcohol testing.
- For the past two years, FAA statistics show the positive drug
testing rate is less than one percent, and the alcohol positive
rate is less than 0.5 percent.
There are few industries more prepared to deal
with drug and alcohol use than airlines. In the case of pilots, few
professions are as closely regulated, monitored, and watched. Pilots
are subjected to yearly physicals, tests, and training that few
professions must adhere to.
FAA Aviation Industry Antidrug and Alcohol Misuse
of Aerospace Medicine
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