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Drug and alcohol testing

Old 07-21-2015, 05:33 AM
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Default Drug and alcohol testing

European Task Force Recommends Random Drug Tests For Pilots
Sean Broderick Cathy Buyck Jul 21, 2015
That pilots can be a threat to air safety has been a key and painful lesson from the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Now a European Commission-initiated task force has presented its views of the implications of the disaster, along with some far-reaching recommendations.

The task force is calling for more robust screening of pilots and for airline drug and alcohol programs with random testing. The commission says it will consider these and four other suggestions “before deciding on future steps.”

The report was delivered to the EC in mid-July and released July 17. The task force, called for by the EC after French civil aviation safety investigation authority BEA released its preliminary report on Flight 9525 in early May, was set up “to assess the adequacy of European air safety and security rules,” the EC says.

The 14-member task force, led by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), embraced several common themes that emerged from the early part of the probe. Chief among them is support for a policy of requiring at least two crew on the flight deck at all times, a procedure many carriers in Europe and elsewhere put in place right after the Germanwings disaster.

The crash of a Germanwings Airbus A320 was at the start of a debate about pilot psychological and drug testing. Credit: Paul Bannwarth/AirlinersGallery.com

A “robust” oversight program for aeromedical examiners is also suggested by the task force, as is the creation of a European aeromedical data repository. It backs both a psychological evaluation for pilots as part of the screening process as well as “pilot support systems” within airlines.

The report calls for random drug and alcohol testing “at least . . . in conjunction with the initial Class 1 medical assessment or when employed by an airline, post-incident, post-accident, with due cause, as part of follow-up and after a positive test result.” That proposal had also been made by Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr. He argued testing for drugs in particular might turn up cases of pilots in psychological distress by finding traces of antidepressants. But the idea brought up concerns over privacy rights.

Past efforts to put Pan-European aviation-worker testing programs in place ran into challenges because of the myriad national laws that come into play.

During the FAA’s latest effort to expand its programs to approved maintenance facilities outside the U.S., the International Air Transport Association (IATA) was among those that pointed to the challenges, especially in Europe, where EASA oversees 32 member states.

“Drug and alcohol testing regulations vary across the [European Union], with some countries banning pre-employment testing . . . and many countries requiring the test results [be] conveyed to the employer in a limited ‘fit or not fit for duty’ declaration,” IATA told the FAA in comments filed in 2014. “Labor protections are significant in the EU and serve principally to protect employees’ privacy and livelihood. In some cases, where testing is generally banned as an invasion of privacy, exemptions are made for ‘safety-sensitive’ workers, who may be tested in limited circumstances. However, the conditions under which and the procedures through which testing is permitted vary extensively, and testing is still banned in certain states even when suspicion is present.”

The report says it “may be appropriate to obtain a complete EU-wide picture of national drugs and alcohol legislation that affects pilots by surveying the competent authorities.” It also suggested that “extend[ing] the target group for the random testing program to other safety-critical professionals . . . might be considered.”

The EC says the report “strives to reach a balance between medical secrecy and safety, and not to create additional red tape for airlines.”

The group looked at several issues it ultimately left out of the recommendations. Among them were the manual cockpit door locking systems mandated after the 9/11 attacks. “The task force has not identified presently suitable alternatives to the manual lock to guarantee security in case of the failure of the automatic system,” the report says. “It is also noted that there are specific cases where the manual lock has proven useful.”

The next steps are a review of the recommendations and related input from safety experts, including accident investigation agencies.

“Where legislative action is to be taken, EASA will be requested to develop concrete proposals, which will then be included in EU aviation safety regulations,” the EC said.

“Key players in aviation and medical science worked closely together within the task force,” says Patrick Ky, EASA executive director and the task force chairman. “This report is the result of a thorough analysis with practical recommendations, so that such a tragic event does not happen again. EASA is ready to take the next necessary steps, applying the lessons learned.”

The European actions are part of a broader effort triggered by the Germanwings disaster, in which the flight’s first officer apparently locked the captain out of the cockpit and intentionally flew the Airbus A320 into the ground during a flight from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany. Germany’s air navigation service provider has called for studying systems that would allow aircraft to be remotely controlled from the ground during emergencies. The FAA has set up a task force to study pilot mental fitness with a goal of providing recommendations by year-end. A separate task force led by the German transport ministry reached similar conclusions to the EU-wide initiatives.
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Old 05-16-2016, 06:15 PM
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Another solution in search of a problem. At least it will help boost employment for screeners, techs, doctors and lawyers.
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