Pilots Need Tighter Alcohol Screening

Drunk PilotsFAA Tightens
Policies for Drunk Pilots

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

With the number of commercial airline pilots testing positive for
alcohol more than doubling in 2002, the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) has established new procedures for dealing with intoxicated pilots,
the Associated Press reported June 18.

WASHINGTON (AP) — After a doubling of airline pilots failing
Breathalyzer tests, the government has tightened procedures to keep those
caught drunk out of the cockpit.

Last year, 22 commercial airline pilots tested positive for alcohol
use, up from nine in 2001, and nine pilots have tested positive this
year. That’s only a fraction of the approximately 75,000 U.S. airline
pilots but enough to cause the Federal Aviation Administration to
establish new procedures for dealing with drunk pilots.

The jump in numbers, first reported by Newsday, led the FAA to change
its policy in January so that pilots who fail sobriety tests immediately
have both their medical and airman’s certificates revoked. Both
certificates are required for a pilot to fly.

Previously, only the medical certificate was revoked in cases of drug
or alcohol use, said John Mazor, spokesman for the Air Line Pilots
Association, the largest pilots’ union.

Pilots can get caught in two ways: as part of the Transportation
Department’s random tests of 10,000 airline pilots every year, or if
their behavior arouses suspicion among airline officials or law
enforcement officers.

Pilots must wait a year and go through rehabilitation to get their
medical certificates restored. To get their airman’s certificate, they
must also wait a year and then retake all the written and flight tests
required to fly a plane.

An increasing number of pilots caught drunk while on duty doesn’t
necessarily mean more intoxicated pilots are trying to fly planes,
experts say. It may mean more are getting caught.

“There is a higher level of public awareness,” said Greg Overman,
spokesman for the Allied Pilots Union, which represents pilots at
American Airlines. “The number of false accusations has risen, and even
when there’s a false accusation by a passenger or a security screener, it
tends to make headlines.”

In February, a pilot removed from a Delta Air Lines flight at Norfolk
International Airport was acquitted of operating a plane under the
influence of alcohol.

Two America West pilots accused of trying to fly drunk on a
Phoenix-bound flight from Miami last year are scheduled to be tried in
Florida state court on July 7.

In all three cases, federal security screeners had smelled alcohol on
the pilots.

Robert Johnson, spokesman for the Transportation Security
Administration, said airline passengers as well as screeners are more
likely to report something unusual at an airport since the September 11
terror attacks.

Screeners are not trained to look for impaired pilots, Johnson said.
“Their job is to search for and keep prohibited items off the aircraft.”
If a screener observes drunken behavior, he or she is directed to report
it to a supervisor, who has the authority to report it to law enforcement
and local airline officials, he said.

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