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Drug and Alcohol Testing: The Inconsistent Truth

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certificated air carriers and repair stations performing work on their behalf in the United States are required to conduct drug and alcohol testing for employees and contractors performing “safety-sensitive functions.” These individuals can be randomly tested for drug and alcohol use and are also subjected to post-accident and reasonable cause testing, among others. A 2006 final rule by the FAA clarified that maintenance subcontractors “at any tier” must also undergo testing.

There are several practical and legal issues associated with requiring drug and alcohol testing for foreign aviation maintenance and air carrier workers because of the varying privacy laws in each country. In Germany, for example, it is illegal to require workers to submit to random drug and alcohol tests.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) provides the international safety framework for civil aviation, but it’s up to the member states to adopt their own rules or validate other National Aviation Authority (NAA) regulations that comply with ICAO standards. The organization has no formal enforcement mechanism; however, states may prohibit operators from entering their airspace if they and/or their NAA do not comply with ICAO requirements. An example of this is Australia, which tests all safety sensitive crewmembers operating on Australian soil regardless of country of origin. The more common practice is for member States to simply file a “difference” between their regulations and ICAO requirements.

ICAO prohibits individuals from performing safety-critical functions while under the influence of any psychoactive substance. However, the organization merely recommends drug and alcohol testing similar to the FAA requirements. In 1994, the FAA proposed drug and alcohol testing of foreign air carrier employees when they operated to or from the United States under 14 CFR part 129. However, the agency withdrew it in 2000, preferring instead to develop a multilateral solution through ICAO.

ARSA is an advocate for fairness and consistency in regulatory application across the board, and sees neither of those traits in compelling non-certificated domestic maintenance contractors “at any tier” to submit to one standard, but not applying that consistent logic and expectation to foreign certificate holders performing safety-sensitive functions in the U.S.

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