View Full Version : Are BA pilots frightened of being caught?

LTN man
12th Apr 2001, 11:09
Pilots' leaders rejected plans by British Airways to introduce random drink and drug testing for flight crew yesterday.

The British Airline Pilots' Association (Balpa) said the "peer pressure" that encouraged employees to report on each other was a sufficient control.

A Channel 4's Dispatches programme broadcast last October reported that members of a BA flight crew had been drinking heavily in the early hours before reporting for duty.

The pilots' union argued yesterday that random tests had "serious flaws" and would "fail to protect passengers". Balpa said that in the United States, where random testing and a peer intervention programme had run concurrently for 10 years, only 80 of 80,0000 pilots failed alcohol tests but 550 pilots had been named, helped and returned to work under the peer pressure scheme.

Detecting the problem and dealing with it, rather than catching the odd individual and punishing them, was at the heart of the peer pressure programme, said the general secretary of Balpa, Christopher Darke.

"Flight crew named to a small team of colleagues and managers do co-operate because they know they will not lose their licence to fly for ever," he said. "They can return to work."

Balpa said random testing would cost an airline up to 876,000 a year.

A report it produced said any random testing should be done by qualified independent professional laboratories rather than by the police. Common standards of testing, verification and validation of results should apply. Safeguards should be established to guard against corruption.

The report concluded: "A programme based on a punitive detection approach would drive behaviour underground."

Captain Rick Brennan, a BA pilot for 32 years and chairman of Balpa, said: "As far as the public is concerned, even one pilot with a drink problem is one too many. Pilots with long-term drink difficulties will not be caught by random tests.

"Colleagues could be reluctant to report pilots with problems but they would do so if they knew that pilots would get help."

BA said Balpa's figures seemed to support both random testing and peer group pressure as part of a comprehensive policy. A spokesman said the airline accepted the need to win acceptance from unions before introducing a new approach. "We understand that this is a complex issue."

12th Apr 2001, 11:37
I know of a couple of families that have lost a son due to drink driving. They obviously support random testing, peer pressure of course also works but to a far lesser degree and more often than not is abused.

A recent traffic cop survey in New Zealand clearly demonstrated that they only had a 0.3% success at prosecution of those guilty brought to them by informers. Over 60% of informers had a reason to make the call other than the person being intoxicated; quite simply they did not like the other person.

We as pilots have a tremendous responsibility, those that care to abuse it should be punished not protected.

We should be treated the same as any other profession. We should not be afforded, protection by friends.

[This message has been edited by THE FIXER (edited 12 April 2001).]

12th Apr 2001, 14:00

Missed the point haven't you? BALPA are suggesting that if you wish to cure an alcohol problem then taking an approach aimed at "achieving a succesfull prosecution" as you imply will encourage people to hide as much as possible. We are not simply talking about losing your driving licence for a while, but losing your very livelihood. A punitive "got you you're guilty" approach will catch only the odd complete idiot. If people do have a problem with alcohol then creating a mechanism whereby they can come forward for help without risking their ability to earn a living must be more effective at achieving the desired result of less alcohol in flying.

Beyond that all though BALPA are also keen that any system should not be set/run on an arbitrary basis by any employer but by an outside, independent body to ensure a consistent standard.

I have no problem with addressing this issue directly but do believe that, like drink driving, the real way to change any situation is by changing attitudes. Nowadays people tend to consider drink driving a dreadful, anti-social crime whereas previously it was tacitly accpeted. I suggest this has been far more effective at reducing the level of offences than any random breathtesting at a roadblock.

Now where's my G&T....

12th Apr 2001, 14:26
Moi agrees with Diesel...

Leanan Sidhe
12th Apr 2001, 14:47
BALPA's stance on this issue makes a great deal of sense! I've met pilots who've taken to the drink--and have only become craftier at avoiding detection in response to more agressive and 'punative' policies.
Sad to say, I even know one man that I wouldn't trust to fly if he weren't drinking (although I'd never confess it to him or his supervisors). It may not be right, but it most certainly is...
I can't help but wonder--If he'd been allowed to come forward on his own (a great while ago) to seek help, without the fear of jeopordizing his career--would his physiology need the alcohol today?

12th Apr 2001, 16:10
LTN Man, random breath-testing would result in a crop of prosecutions, whatever profession you care to pick.

A Chief Constable once commented that if a one-off check was carried out at the London end of any motorway on a Monday morning between 0700 and 1000, the courts would be filled by lunchtime.

12th Apr 2001, 17:06
No LTN Man we are not frightened of being caught because we do not have an endemic culture of drinking and flying within BA.

The Channel 4 documentary caused a great deal of attention to be focused on a non-existent problem. The point is, that in todays media and pressure group led society, that random testing will, in reality, achieve very little. It will cost a great deal, it will make our working life a little less pleasant and it will achieve very little.

Rick Brennan's quoted comments make sense to me.

I, like many of my colleagues, will accept whatever comes but don't expect me to agree that it is worthwhile or sensible.

12th Apr 2001, 17:58
Why not both?

Balpa's peer pressure method is definitely the best way of reinforcing the culture of not drinking near duty time, and it's also the best way of helping the drinker who has a real problem.

I also agree that random testing will not deter (and probably not detect) the serious drinker.

But, having got the pilots' support for it, why not activate the peer pressure system? And then random testing will find nothing. I hope.

I understand the hostility to testing, though. As pilots we are already the most tested, most closely monitored and most analysed profession on earth. It feels like yet another intrusion - as if we are not trusted, whereas doctors and lawyers, for example, are trusted. Actually I reckon they aren't trusted any longer, but they still aren't tested. So it hurts our pride to be singled out.

But in the end the public will want to know why we aren't happy about testing, and hurt pride's not a good enough reason to say no to something which won't catch anyone anyway if what we say about ourselves is true.

Pilots hold passengers' lives in their hands in an even more immediate way than doctors do, with the possible exception of surgeons and anaesthetists in an operating theatre.

I like a drink. I occasionally get properly smashed. But although it hurts my pride to be tested, it's not going to find me testing positive on duty, ever. Or anybody I know.

12th Apr 2001, 18:14
Fixer, I totally agree that we should be treated EXACTLY the same as any other profession. Doctors for example, dont have to defend their qualifications and their jobs for 2 days every 6 months and if they move from one hospital to another, its usually with a promotion and a pay rise, not a pay cut, going to the bottom of the seniority list and having less responsibility.

12th Apr 2001, 18:24
No problem with doing both it makes sense.

At then end of the day I drink but do not drink and fly. Its only those that do that have to worry and yes if they are over the limit they should be sacked and prosecuted for endangering the lives of so many.

Are we not professionals, do we not care about our crew and passengers? So whats the problem, unless you drink and fly!

You splitter
12th Apr 2001, 19:30

No you are right old boy. And junior doctors would just love a 55 hour working week limit.

12th Apr 2001, 21:38
And so the age old argument re 'Profession' and 'priveledge' goes on. The profession's don't have to demonstrate accountability(ways and means tests for 'competency'on a regular basis).. We on the other hand exercise 'privileges',by/on our constantly updated licence. In view of the fact that the medical'practice' and the legal system bury their mistakes,we are buried with ours(being the first on the scene so's to speak),they can argue the system and not the individual is at fault.
The evident danger to all this is medical evidence mistake,Case in point a US captn was asked to 'fill' the bottle upon arrival SFO.His sampled tested positive for Co',The FAA immediately revoked his licence until his lawyer stipulated that the pilot in question had used Canadian asperin(which contains codene).The FAA tried to implement the rule on Canadaian pilots visiting the the 'states'..CALPA went before the Senate in Ottawa,demonstrated their recuperative cases in the area of the 'drinking'disease,and has to this day not been approached after a flight.(although we have had flight's that didn't take off)

12th Apr 2001, 22:36
One of the BIG problems I have with this whole random drink/drugs testing is that it is ONLY BA who is doing it. Now, the cynic in me still reckons it's another prat manager's knee-jerk reaction to the ridiculous debacle on C4...but 'they' keep telling me it's not that at all. I ask what it's all about then and 'they' can't answer that. They've given a committment (strangely coinciding with C4) and now it's a good case of Thatcher's 'No U-Turns' policy.

IF (and that's a huge IF) our Lords and Masters at the CAA think there is a problem why have they not introduced an industry-wide policy of testing? Why are the idiots at Waterside pressing ahead with their own agenda (again) and setting themselves up for another confrontation when we say 'no'.

It's interesting to see that if the suits get their way and come up with their own, special, BA only type test, then it will require a change of contract for the pilots. Guess who will not be signing that!!

I've got nothing to hide and I have no sympathy for idiotic crews flying when under the influence. We are all professionals and 99.9% of us would never do anything so stupid. If the CAA considers that too many, then let THEM institute a testing policy across the whole industry for ALL operational staff. After all; the pilots might be stone cold sober but pissed cabin crew are hardly going to be a help with an evacuation.

If you're a BA manager (I use the term loosely) then wise up. BALPA (and that means us) are not going to accept YOUR testing and it would do us all a lot of good if you'd stop wasting my profit-share on another ridiculous scheme. Wait and see if the professionals at the Belgrano have something to say about it before launching off on your own self-justifying campaigns and stop reacting to some silly little tart with a camera, who after 40 hours of filming only proved 2 people had been drinking outside the limits.

Rant not over yet.


You Ain't Seen Me - Right !!

Magnus Picus
12th Apr 2001, 23:58
Got to admit it chaps, Rick Brennans words can be 'spun' into a very 'anti' pilot statement.
"Pilots Union resent Airlines attempts to rid company of drink drivers"

We are on the inside looking out, at pointlessly worried Daily Mail readers. Couldn't BALPA have used a bit of PR nouse and released the statement,
"BALPA urge CAA to incorporate trusted US method of independant testing aligned with pro-active counselling as a preventative measure to supposed drinking by British Pilots.