Aviation Groups Object to FAA's Pilot Drug Study

 - April 17, 2019, 6:50 PM

Nine groups representing general aviation and airline pilots have expressed their “strong opposition” to a proposed FAA study aimed at assessing the use of medications and other drugs among pilots by anonymously collecting and testing their urine during physical exams. The study replies to NTSB recommendation A-14-95, initially published in 2014 but for which the FAA submitted its final response last year.

That NTSB recommendation asked the agency to conduct a study to assess the prevalence of drug use among pilots not involved in accidents and compare those results with findings from pilots who have died from aviation accidents to assess the safety risks of using those drugs while flying. The FAA told the NTSB it was currently finalizing the details for aviation medical examiners (AME) and briefing pilot groups.

In a recent letter to the FAA, the groups call on the NTSB to rescind that recommendation, which was put forward after post-accident autopsy reports suggested an increase in traces of medications and other drugs found in pilots, even though the causes of the accidents were not medically related. Further, the groups contend the study “is fundamentally flawed; will not accomplish its stated goals; does not comply with applicable legal requirements; represents a waste of valuable time, money, and limited resources; and will further erode trust between the pilot community and the [FAA] Office of Aerospace Medicine.”

In addition, the letter pointed out that a pilot who is being examined for his or her medical certificate often has no intention that day of operating an aircraft. Test results of a pilot who has no intention of flying on the day of examination will be erroneously reported as those of an “actively flying pilot,” resulting in inaccurate conclusions.

The aviation groups also raised privacy issues about the study: “Even though the FAA removed the geographic location from the initial urine cup label, the CAMI lab and personnel will be able to identify the AME from which the cup came, eroding the privacy protections of the study.”

Besides AOPA, signers of the letter included the EAA, HAI, NATA, NBAA, three airline pilot associations, and the NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots.