Aviation Associations Object To FAA Drug Study

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Nine aviation associations are objecting to a proposed FAA study that would perform toxicology tests on anonymous urine samples gathered during pilot medical exams, according to a letter sent to the FAA on April 3. The letter (PDF) states that the study proposal was presented to Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) team members during a Feb. 27, 2018, meeting by staff from the FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI).

The testing proposal stems from a 2014 NTSB recommendation (PDF) that the FAA “conduct a study to assess the prevalence of over-the-counter, prescription, and illicit drug use among flying 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.” In addition to concerns about lack of true anonymity and whether pilots would be informed prior to the use of their samples or given the opportunity to opt out of the study, the study’s methods are also being called into question. Issues being cited include how long drugs linger in urine after use, the potential for counting pilots who might have self-grounded after taking medications as being actively flying under the influence of drugs, and the accuracy of comparing urine sample data to NTSB drug use data which is collected from tissue and blood samples of accident victims.

“We believe the study does not comply with legal requirements, represents a waste of government funds and resources, and will further erode any trust left between the pilot community and the Office of Aerospace Medicine,” the groups wrote in the letter. “It is our strong belief that outreach, communication, and education are areas where the FAA should focus its resources.” Organizations that signed the letter include the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Helicopter Association International (HAI), National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and Southwest Airline Pilots Association (SWAPA).

The FAA has not yet responded to a request for comment.