Air Carrier Drug and Alcohol Abuse Policy

Editorial, by Jon L. Jordan, MD, JD

As you may know, the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991 directs the FAA to prescribe regulations regarding drug and alcohol misuse by air carrier employees. The Act also requires similar actions by the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the Federal Transit Administration for their respective industries. The US Coast Guard and the Research and Special Programs Administration, as well, are to promulgate such regulations.

The Act will have only a minimal impact on the FAA�s current industry anti-drug program because it was intended mainly to codify, but not change, those requirements.

The most significant aspect of the Act is its new requirement for alcohol testing of air carrier employees. These employees, and any others designated by the FAA as performing safety-sensitive functions, must undergo pre-employment, post-accident, random, and reasonable suspicion alcohol testing. The FAA may also impose periodic testing.


The testing methodology has to be scientifically recognized and must provide for privacy and confidentiality of results. If laboratory testing is required�for example, blood testing�the test must conform to Department of Health and Human Services guidelines and provide for split sample testing.


Besides the testing requirements, the Act the gives the FAA Administrator authority to deny certification or impose other sanctions for the misuse of drugs or alcohol. The Act also provides that violators be permanently excluded from safety-sensitive positions. The prohibition applies to any person, who, after the effective date of the Act:

  • impermissibly uses drugs or alcohol on duty,
  • engages in prohibited drug or alcohol-related conduct after a prior violation,
  • fails to participate or successfully complete a required rehabilitation program.
Foreign Air Carriers

The Act also applies to foreign air carriers operating within US territory, but must be consistent with international obligations. The Act directs the Secretary of Transportation and the Secretary of State to encourage International Civil Aviation Organization members to strengthen and enforce their substance abuse prohibitions.

OAM Involvement

The Office of Aviation Medicine�s Drug Abatement Branch has the lead in developing regulations to implement the alcohol-related provisions of the Act and in making any necessary changes to the anti-drug rule. Staff members are actively involved in the intermodal working groups established by the Office of the Secretary of Transportation to ensure consistency in the proposed alcohol misuse rules.

As the particulars of this important safety-related program unfold, I will convey them to you. I appreciate your continued interest and support of the FAA�s efforts to combat substance abuse in the aviation workplace.