Flight schools often prioritize safety and adhere to strict regulations set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Whether pursuing a private pilot license or aiming to become a professional airline pilot, aspiring pilots must undergo various requirements and assessments to ensure they are fit to fly. One critical aspect is drug, alcohol, and tobacco testing, which is vital in maintaining the integrity and safety of the aviation industry.
Flight schools implement comprehensive testing policies to address the influence of drugs or alcohol on pilots. These policies are in place to safeguard the students and the flight crews they may join in the future. Random drug testing programs conducted by the FAA provide an equal chance of testing to all pilots, including student pilots enrolled in flight training programs.
The FAA (Federal Aviation Regulations) encompasses all aspects of pilot drug testing. Pilots must take drug tests, including urine tests, as part of their initial medical certification and subsequent renewals.
A positive test result can have severe consequences, like suspension or revocation of a pilot’s license. There is a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy at ATP. If caught, you will be removed and reported to the FAA, which could squash any potential future aviation career opportunities as outlined in Part 61.
Employers, flight instructors, and flight schools are responsible for enforcing these testing policies and promptly reporting any violations or refusals to the FAA. In our guide, you can learn more about why and how pilots get drug tested. By the end, you’ll better understand what goes into drug or alcohol testing. Also, refusing to take a drug test can be grounds for denial of an application to become a professional pilot. (Read Can I Bring A Grinder On A Plane)
Do Flight Schools Drug Test Students & Instructors?
One common question is whether an ATP flight school drug test its students and instructors. The answer to this question can vary depending on the flight school’s policies. Even an FBO can be tested, even if they won’t be in the cockpit of an airplane. Here, you can find all you need to know about tests for drugs and drinks. Also, you’ll see what happens when a pilot fails a drug test and comes back with a positive test result.
Note companies or schools may follow the guidelines of FAA Part 120. This enables them to have lower insurance and worker compensation premiums, should any be involved in an accident. Operators must give each employee they hire, or student, an equal chance of being tested. Unsurprisingly, anyone possessing or using such substances could avoid using and thus skip detection if they are aware of it.
Drug Testing Policies in Flight Schools
It is important to note that most flight schools do not drug test their students or instructors as a standard practice. Flight schools primarily rely on their students and instructors to exercise sound judgment and not use substances that may impair their ability to operate an aircraft safely.
However, it is crucial to understand that flight schools may be safety-sensitive and establish their own drug and alcohol testing policies. This can include pre-employment screenings, random tests, and tests in the event of an accident or incident.
Drug testing isn’t a mandatory requirement in the industry. Larger flight schools associated with airlines are likelier to have a drug and alcohol policy that all students and instructors must adhere to. Student pilots should check the flight school’s website or contact the school to inquire about their specific drug and alcohol screening policy.
Substances An Airline Pilot Can Be Tested For?
Flight schools implementing drug testing policies typically consider a broad range of substances they prohibit that impair an individual’s ability to operate an aircraft safely.
- Illicit drugs and mood-altering substances: This category encompasses illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana (despite its increasing legality in certain states).
- Legal or illegal drugs: Flight schools may test for over-the-counter and prescription medications that can potentially affect cognitive and physical performance.
- Prescription medication: Even though certain medications may be legally obtained with a prescription, flight schools may still screen for their presence if they might compromise flight safety.
Flight schools consider whether a substance, regardless of its legality, can inhibit or degrade a student’s or instructor’s ability to manipulate an aircraft’s controls safely. Because of this, it’s easy to see why most commercial pilots have to renew their first or second-class medical certificate every year or every two years. (Learn How Many Flight Attendants Are On An International Flight)
Consequences When A Pilot Fails A Drug Test
If a student pilot or instructor fails a drug test, the consequences can vary depending on the flight school’s policy and the severity of the situation. Sometimes, flight schools may offer a one-time discretionary waiver along with a corrective course or program to be followed. However, other flight schools may choose to terminate the training or employment of the individual immediately.
It is essential to understand that a failed drug test can have profound implications, potentially leading to the termination of training or employment, as well as legal and regulatory consequences. Flight schools may notify the FAA and local law enforcement about the test results, which could result in further investigations or criminal proceedings.
FAA Regulations and Medical Examinations
As the governing body for aviation in the United States, the FAA has established regulations to ensure the safety of flight operations. However, it is crucial to note that aviation medical examiners (AMEs) do not conduct routine drug and alcohol tests during medical examinations.
A urine sample may be collected during the medical exam to test for diabetes and kidney-related issues, but not for drug or alcohol consumption. If you visit an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) when applying for or renewing an airmen’s medical certificate, every pilot, employee, or student must complete the FAA Form 8500-8.
This form includes sections where applicants can disclose their medication usage and substance dependence or abuse history, including driving under the influence (DUI) convictions.
It is crucial to provide truthful information on this form, as providing false information can have serious consequences, including fines and imprisonment. In the event of an aircraft accident or incident involving a student pilot or certified pilot, the FAA can review the information provided on the FAA Form 8500-8. Suppose the individual is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or alcohol over the approved limits. They can face significant penalties, including fines or possible imprisonment. (Read Are Laptops Allowed In Carry On)
Importance of Responsible Choices
Becoming a pilot comes with great responsibility, as the safety of oneself, passengers, and others in the airspace depends on the pilot’s abilities and judgment. Aspiring pilots must make responsible choices regarding substance use to ensure they can perform their duties safely and effectively. If you are considering a career as a pilot, it is strongly advised to abstain from the consumption of drugs, legal or illegal.
It is crucial to be mindful of alcohol consumption during off-duty hours, as alcohol can impair cognitive and physical abilities. The FAA’s regulation on “Bottle to Throttle” (14 CFR Part 91.17) mandates 8 hours between consuming alcohol and operating an aircraft, with more extended periods required for higher alcohol intake. (Read Can You Put A Nintendo Switch In Checked Luggage)
It is recommended that individuals on medication consult with their healthcare providers and understand the potential effects of the medication on their ability to perform flight duties safely. When in doubt, it is advisable to take time off from flying until the effects of the medication have subsided.