10 percent of all aviation accidents tested positive for illicit substances
Written By Lucas Kibby
As a recent article by The Recover states, “Addiction does not discriminate”, and this includes the alarming information regarding substance abuse in aviation.
According to the article, roughly 10% of all aviation accidents involve a positive test for illicit substances and the most commonly abused substances for pilots are marijuana and alcohol.
In 2015 alone, more than 1,500 drug tests were verified positive out of more than 218,000 tests on safety sensitive employees, which include pilots, mechanics, flight instructors, flight attendants, aircraft dispatchers, ground security coordinators, non-TSA aviation screeners, and non-FAA/military air traffic controllers.
We know the affects alcohol has when being abused and, according to American researchers who studies 10,000 studies on marijuana research since 1999 found that “there is substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and increased risk of motor vehicle crashes” and “moderate evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and the impairment in the cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention (acute cannabis use).”
Why is substance abuse in the aviation industry alarming? There are an estimated 584,362 active pilots licenses in the US and there are 90,000 flights around the world each day carrying more than 8 million people.
Why is this happening?
Pilots and aviation professionals spend an enormous time away from home, away from their family and friends. Alcohol and drugs are often abused in order to provide short-term relief from the loneliness or stress of the job.
Unfortunately, a tolerance can be formed to these substances and a higher, more frequent dosage is required to achieve the same effects.
For example, some pilots find it hard to stay awake during long flights or in-between turnovers and the next flight. Pilots may experiment in stimulants, such as Caffeine, and then turn to stronger stimulants like amphetamines.
The amphetamines provide energy but then produce dependency issues with serious mental and physical consequences, which could put their passengers at risk.
Aviation Industry Drug Testing Programs
Thankfully, there are rules and regulations in place for anyone who performs a “safety-sensitive function” for compensation as a pilot or a mechanic is subject to DOT/FAA drug testing in the U.S.
These regulations include small “Part 135” operations, with one aircraft and one pilot, mechanics who signs off the logs for work on an aircraft being used for “Part 135” operations, and anyone training for either of these functions is also required to be enrolled in a formal DOT/FAA drug testing program.
U.S. DOT/FAA rules prohibit pilots from flying if they have a blood-alcohol content of .04 percent or higher, twice that as the legal threshold to drive a car in the U.S. at .08 percent.
Pilots must also wait several hours after having a drink to fly, are enrolled in a random testing program (in the U.S. and Europe), and are tested if there is reasonable suspicion. Additionally, pilots provide urine samples during a physical exam to check for diseases, but not drugs.
Prevention or Rehab Should be Considered
There are many who believe having the physical exam urine sample also tested for drugs as one solution in understanding how pervasive this problem could be.
Pilots, and those involved in safety-sensitive positions in the aviation industry, should be aware of the dangers of their addiction and seek help in professional treatment centers to ensure a complete recovery before coming back to their positions again.