View Full Version : Drug tests for Pilots

20th Jul 2005, 07:52
In today's Australian newspaper. You will soon be pissing in a jar or breathing in a bag after you fight your way through "security."


Inquiry report:

Hamilton Island occurence report:

Text from The Australian article.....

Inquiry backs drug tests for air workers
Steve Creedy, Aviation writer

A FEDERAL government investigation prompted by a fatal plane crash at Hamilton Island in 2002 has backed the introduction of mandated drug and alcohol testing for the aviation industry.

A draft report by the Transport Department and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority estimates that up to 8per cent of pilots are alcohol-dependent, with maintenance personnel, flight attendants and management similarly affected.
The report, a final version of which is due to go to Transport Minister Warren Truss next month, backs drug and alcohol testing for "safety-sensitive" aviation jobs.

Current laws do not allow CASA to test aviation workers in its capacity as regulator, or for air safety investigators to conduct tests during inquiries. Police also have no authority to detain or test pilots suspected of substance abuse.

"Safety is the key issue," the report says. "Aviation operations present a potential risk to public safety if not undertaken in a safe manner. Alcohol and drug use pose a real challenge to ensuring such operational safety."

While there is no precise definition of "safety-sensitive", the report points to US definitions that go beyond air crew to include air traffic controllers, rescue and firefighting personnel, refuellers and even baggage handlers.

Testing would be managed by industry and law enforcement agencies who would report to CASA. The report discusses a range of testing options and notes that random tests, which have in the past been opposed by unions and civil libertarians, have a "pro-active deterrent effect".

"The submissions provided and information available strongly suggest that a flexible mix of testing including pre-employment, random, on suspicion/reasonable cause, post-incident or accident and post-treatment is appropriate," it says. It also recommends the testing be supported by worker education as well as treatment options, rehabilitation measures and re-certification processes.

The Government launched the review after a New Zealand family of four, an American on his honeymoon, and a 27-year-old pilot died when a small plane crashed on take-off from Hamilton Island in September 2002.

Air safety investigators said last year that they could not rule out the combined effect of fatigue, cannabis use and drinking as a factor in the crash and described the testing issue as a significant concern.

But the report warns there is still complacency in the industry. "Indeed, the very existence of substance abuse, and therefore the need for testing or any response, is still disputed by some elements of the community," it says.

The report also cites studies supporting the effectiveness of drug and alcohol testing, including one showing that accidents at a US railway company fell tenfold over five years once a program was introduced.

20th Jul 2005, 08:13
for **** sake, why doesnt the govt or whoever just make it illegal to fly in OZ and be done with it!

though sadly, im sure if you go through all the legal/security BS, you will find it propbably is already technically illegal to fly any aircraft in Oz.....

Capt Claret
20th Jul 2005, 08:20

I can see us arriving at the point where we'll have to set off for work yesterday to be in time for tomorrow's duty! :{

Super Cecil
20th Jul 2005, 09:13
I have no problem with drug or alcohol testing, it should be consistant though. If tests are done it should be all folk, afternoon sittings in state and federal Parliment should be good place to start. The bench where the bloke with the wig sits is also another good spot, after 2 bottles of red with the 2 hour lunch they tend to go to sleep and slur their speech. People who govern and judge the country should set an example first. What are the chances of those clowns leading the way? :(

20th Jul 2005, 09:24
Well said Super, couldn't agree with you more.:ok:

On eyre
20th Jul 2005, 09:28
'Ere 'Ere Cecil - ah order in the court first. Would the honorable member/your honour care to blow into this bag until I say stop.
Would be tempting to not say stop wouldn't it.

20th Jul 2005, 10:28
I don't argue with the fact that some colleagues do have an alcohol or other drug abuse problem.

You would be a mug to say that it is not a safety issue. But it should not be a priority. The article in the Aussie doesn't explain that the 8% is an estimation without scientific basis. The report author says so himself. It is actually an inference from other industries that pilots may have a 5% to 8% rate of alcohol and drug dependence.

The big issue for me isn't whether there is a problem, but the relative magnitude of the problem and where the problem lies in relation toother safety priorities.

Firstly the Hamilton Island accident was single engine VFR charter. The report makes recommendations for a whole industry, and talks about implementation programs in big companies.

Now you and I know that there could not be a bigger difference between the 'organisation' that runs a Cherokee Six, and the organisation that runs a Boeing or Airbus or Dash8. Worlds apart. Easy enough to target an RPT crew as they sign on, but who is going to set up a testing station at the gate to the GA apron?

I think it is analogous to a single vehicle rollover on the Tanami Highway being used as the reason for lowering speed limits in city streets. Different conditions, different road, different speeds, etc. Tenuous link at the most.

I then think about the excellent job the 4 Corners people did in looking at the industry surrounding the Lockhart River crash. We have all been there --- poor supervision, bugger all training, substandard living and working conditions, pressure to 'get the job done' with a distant and disinterested regulator and a government that tries to get a bush community strip to be financially self supporting.

The ATSB has sent CASA and DOTARS off on a tangent. There is far, far more to be achieved for flight safety in looking at ALL the GA and third level RPT situation. We have one accident that may have alcohol or marijuana use as a contributing factor in an inexperienced, poorly supervised charter pilot. He and his pax would be better served by shelving the drug and alcohol testing and doing something about the grass roots of the industry.

The boggie pilots in aussie GA already know that their supervisors and bosses push them on CAO 48, they push them on airworthiness, they push them on pay and conditions. CASA safety managment and quality systems and audits have no effect on what happens at ground zero and the working charter pilot. What moron at the ATSB or DOTARS could believe that implementation of a drug and alcohol program would filter down to the next Cherokee Six pilot?

My 2c worth.

20th Jul 2005, 22:43
Read the report itself at DOTARS website.

The plan is reasonable but the devil is going to be in the detail as usual.

I think at present we have the "eight hour" rule. However since BAC decreases at about .01 per hour, it is concievable that a night out could leave you with a non-zero reading when you turn up at the airport.

Why is this important? Because you can bet that the politicians will demand a zero level with zero tolerance.

The other issue is Cannabis. This has a half life in the body of seven days. I don't use the stuff (and neither should you), but I wonder if being in the same room as a Cannabis smoker could produce detectable traces? I suspect that this issue is going to be settled in Victorian courts.

As for amphetamines, etc. they metabolise quickly so if they are detected it is a sure bet that you have deliberately done something wrong.

21st Jul 2005, 00:17
Here are some interesting preliminary results from the Victorian Driver testing trial:

"Road safety authorities are shocked by the early result of Victoria’s random roadside drug testing after one in 50 drivers tested positive for illegal drug use.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon said today she was surprised by the outcome of the first six months of the year-long trial.

More than 7,000 drivers were tested from mid-December last year to the end of June, with 145 testing positive for methamphetamines, cannabis, or both.

The strike rate of one in 50 compares to one in 250 drivers typically caught for drink driving by random roadside breathalyser tests.

In another alarming statistic, 34 of the drugged drivers were behind the wheel of large trucks involved in the heavy transport industry.

“Even the experts didn’t quite predict that there would be this many people who drive with drugs in their system,” Ms Nixon said.

“Victoria has a serious problem of people who drive with drugs in their system.”

Ms Nixon said drug users often claimed their driving was not impaired but they were wrong.

She said the early trial result had strengthened the case for further random roadside drug testing in Victoria.

Other statistics released at the Royal Automobile Club Victoria (RACV) traffic enforcement forum, in Melbourne today, included:
• of the 7,207 motorists tested, 5,054 were driving cars with 2,153 in trucks.
• 111 car drivers found to be under the influence of drugs (one in 45) and 34 truck drivers (one in 63).
• drugged car drivers ranged in age from 18 to 54 years, but the vast majority (68 per cent) were in their 20s.
• drugged truck drivers were aged 26 to 51, and 59 per cent were in their 30s.
• more drivers tested positive for methamphetamine (also known as ecstasy) than cannabis, but this was attributed to a more advanced testing system for methamphetamine.

Inspector Ian Cairns, in charge of the trial, said officers had targeted some drivers who were leaving dance or “rave” parties, but he said the results were indicative of a broader community trend.

“It was random, conducted seven days a week ... and very disturbing from a road safety point of view,” he said.

The results suggested drink driving programs may be having an effect, Insp Cairns said. “There are less people drink driving now than there were 10 to 15 years ago, however, the evidence also shows people using illicit drugs has increased, especially over the past four or five years,” he said.

“(And) the incidence of people using illicit drugs and driving has increased.”

The penalty for a first offence for drugged driving is three license demerit points and a $307 fine." Source - AAP

This is the trial that the ATSB report mentions. Interesting results in that 1 in 45 driving cars returned positive results. The 1 in 63 from heavy vehicles does not surprise me given the recent media coverage of the problems in that industry. My understanding is that more states are looking at the trial in Victoria with the view to introduce them in their respective jurisdictions.

What is abundantly clear is that society in general is becoming increasingly intolerant of drug use - it doesn't matter what transport mode it is.


21st Jul 2005, 00:27
I may be wrong here, but I get the feeling that it's gonna get harder for a bloke to have an allnighter, grab a couple of hours sack time, have a shot o' bundy for breakky, sniff some glue,strap on his semtex, throw his AK47 into his navbag, call into his fav book shop in Lakemba and trondle off to put in his 12 hour day without getting a full orifice search on arrival at work............sheeesh!!:ugh:

21st Jul 2005, 00:49
Roflmao.... yes.. looks like the party is over!;)

21st Jul 2005, 00:51
What will the drug tests test for?

If you look at the DAME handbook and then your company ops manuals panadol is about the only thing that you can legally take.

How many of us have gone to work taking an antibiotic for something (not necessarily the clap!) or taken an over the counter cold and flu medication?

What about over the counter herbal medications?

I can see many unwitting people caught in a trap that wasn't designed to catch them - but catch them it will nonetheless!

Do you get the sack for taking an antibiotic for an infected ingrown tow nail? For taking a codral in the middle of a trip?

Thoughts anyone?

21st Jul 2005, 05:53
The issue for me here is Cannabis testing, I'm afraid I've had to learn quite a bit about it for reasons I would not wish on anyone.

Cannabis has a "half life" in the body of Seven days, that is the amount of THC (tetrahydrocannibol) in the body is halved every seven days. Detectable amounts will remain for maybe three or four weeks.

Now I understand that the tests used for Cannabis is a "yes/no" test. So my understanding is that one bong/cone/ cigarette/hash cooky etc, could still see you accused of "drug driving" thirty days after use because there is no "Safe level" below which you would not be regarded as impaired.

So here we go again. Any detectable level of Cannabis in the system - go to jail. Any detectable alcohol in the system - go to jail.

But do you deserve it? The net effect of all this could well be pilots losing their licences,and/or their careers, or future careers for no particularly good reason.

21st Jul 2005, 06:18
Some of Sunfish' posts now make sense!:ooh:

Ron & Edna Johns
21st Jul 2005, 08:19
Numerous studies have shown that tiredness and fatigue can have the same effect on alertness as having a level of blood alcohol. So why is there not a focus on getting proper fatigue management systems in place with the airlines? Why do we still have FT & D limitations that were written in the sixties and don't even make reference to time-zone changes? If 8% of pilots allegedly have an alcohol dependency (yeah.... sure....) then I'm certain that 100% of airline pilots are affected at times by tiredness and fatigue.

So why the focus on one and not the other?

The answer is obvious......... :suspect:

21st Jul 2005, 08:27
Both fatigue AND drugs ????

21st Jul 2005, 10:53
Tank, my knowledge is not first hand. Just pray that you never have to find out, like I did, what a lethal drug cannabis can be.

I've seen too many young lives blighted by this "harmless" drug.

Translation: Its not a laughing matter and it ain't a harmless drug.

You want any more information, PM me.

29th Sep 2005, 12:32
Agree with you entirely Sunfish. Especially in days like these when there be plenti good quality clean amphetamine, would why anyone want to smoke pot be mystery? I am believer all flights crew should be broadening horizons and trying others drugs, importantly yes because I believe Dope have longer half life than many drug?

29th Sep 2005, 17:34
Any pilot with half a clue who is concerned with the use of an over the counter drug,should at the very least contact his/her current medical examiner.....for those in the pot/booze catergory.....your choice,but be reminded of the two America West pilots who are now sitting in the state Penn in Florida.....listening to..."do you wanna be the mama or the papa tonight"......it has been previously mentioned that our profession is held to a much higher standard than most ......it is!!!I get tested,at least 4 times/annum......dont have a problem with it....and I have nothing to hide....I believe that all JAL pilots are required to "blow the bag" when reporting to work...for those of you that think this may be a stretch on your civil liberties,enlighten me..... :( ...taru kino

compressor stall
1st Oct 2005, 03:04
As someone who has tested positive at two (urine) drug screening tests at minesites for drugs I have never seen in my life I am sure that the anguish caused by said tests will be horrendous.

The second round tests subsequently cleared myself (and my supervisor!) but try doing that with 200 pax waiting and media vultures....

Turbulent Eddy
1st Oct 2005, 05:14
G'day Stallie,
You may have got an erroneous reading from your test due to the cumulative effects of too much 'Me-Khong' dining :ugh:

Hope all is well...catch up soon, :ok:

1st Oct 2005, 14:41
Well Boys and girls welcome to the modern world . Mining camps have been doing it for years, with a dismissal policy if found positive. I cant see the problem if you dont take drugs and drink within the law and using a bit of CDF there will be no problem.

2nd Oct 2005, 04:30
Well if pilots are forced to do it before every flight, then I think that all sheepdogs should also be tested every morning of every day just in case they need to bark at someone during the day.

Capt Claret
2nd Oct 2005, 09:54

Rather than just towing the line, have another read of Stallie's post on the previous page. Then ask yourself how you would feel if the victim of a false positive, where you would be presumed guilty and then have to prove yourself innocent.

If you are saying to yourself "that I wouldn't have to worry because I know I don't take illicit drugs", you're not being objective enough.

I don't take drugs, aside from caffeine, medicinal ;) alcohol or those prescribed from time to time by my medico/DAME. I have no problem with the concept of random testing, as long as it doesn't add another half hour to duty time, or require me to remove part of my uniform.

However, I am seriously concerned about the issue of false positives and the potential to harm a pilot's lively-hood.

"Dear Capt/FO Bloggs,

This morning you tested positive for cannabis. Your services are no longer required by this airline.

We wish you well with your future endeavours." :uhoh:

3rd Oct 2005, 02:26
The cause and solution to all lifes problems.......sigh

Ron & Edna Johns
3rd Oct 2005, 02:38
Ah yes..........

"They smell good, they look good, you'd step over your own mother just to get one."

3rd Oct 2005, 04:44
In the nascent world of aviation outside of Oz, alcohol testing is random, mandatory and even at certain times selective. 12hr rule with % values applied. No second chances and no excuses. You have a problem with that? :suspect:

Captain Can't
3rd Oct 2005, 04:47
Alcohol breath testing (followed by a blood sample) has historical weight as a reliable test. I don't think that anyone is refuting the practice - only the probable implemetation impacting on our duties... and the unproven performance of other drug testings....

6th Oct 2005, 02:59
Still consuming enough Poppy seeds on your bagel will result in a Fail for Opiates.

Horatio Leafblower
6th Oct 2005, 15:05
Like Comp Stall I have had a few experiences wiht mine-site testing. There is a strong presumption of innocence for these tests, to the point that one guy I know pops a Panadeine Forte when he is tipped off he will be drug tested (at random, of course).

He gets 3 days off on full pay while the sample goes to the lab and is proven to be Panadeine Forte, not the Heroin he showed up positive for.

There are many things that will set off a workplace drug test that are harmless. There are also anti-discrimination laws in this country that might (no I haven't checked) make it an offence to sack an employee for an illness such as a drug addiction.

I know Anglo Coal have a three-tier addiction counselling program following a real positive and I would expect that most airlines in Aus would follow that lead as "best practice".