Have you ever wondered if pilots have to pass a drug test before being able to fly?
This is a common question for many reasons. The biggest being that people want to know that the person flying the plan they are on isn’t under the influence of any drugs that would prevent them from safely flying the airplane.
After all, the safety of everyone on an airplane is in the hands of the pilot.
Others might just be curious if pilot’s get drug tested since more and more jobs these days are passing on doing drug tests. So, let’s take a detailed look at this question.
Do pilots get drug tested?
Yes, pilots must pass a drug test in order to work as an airline pilot.
In this article we will look at some of the specifics regarding pilots and drug tests.
When most people think of pilots, they think of airline pilots. While a majority of this article is about airline pilots, there are several other types of pilots as well. In this article we’ll also cover some of these other types of pilots including private pilots, recreational pilots, and sport pilots.
Let’s start with some of the details around airline pilots.
Why Are Airline Pilots Drug Tested?
Being a pilot is one of the most safety sensitive jobs in the world. Every time a pilot (and co-pilot) take off, they are taking responsibility for the safety of all the passengers and crew on that aircraft.
Making what seems like a small error can easily lead to an unsafe situation for everyone onboard the aircraft.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and all of the airlines prioritize safety above everything else. Making sure that pilots are able to perform their job duties while not under the influence of any drugs plays a key role in safety precautions and is something that is taken very seriously.
When are Airline Pilots Drug Tested?
There are several situations that lead to a pilot having to take and pass a drug test. The FAA has strict requirements on when a pilot needs to be tested. Here is a list of the times and scenarios that can lead to a pilot getting drug tested:
- During the hiring process: The FAA requires that airline pilots take and pass a drug test as part of the hiring process. Prospective pilots must pass this test before being able to start work as a pilot.
- Random drug testing: The FAA also has a policy that allows for pilots to undergo random drug tests as long as they are working as a pilot. The FAA even has specific guidelines as to how many pilots are tested and how often in order to ensure that enough pilots are tested.
- Reasonable cause: Airlines can also require a pilot take a drug test if there is any reasonable cause. Reasonable cause can include various things like a supervisor being suspicious that you are under the influence, you demeanor, your attitude, or someone reporting that they have reason to believe you are under the influence.
- After an accident: If a pilot is involved in an accident the FAA and/or the airline that employs them can require them to take a drug test. This is done to find out if the pilot was on any substance that could have played a part in the accident.
- Returning to duty: In the event that a pilot was removed from active duty due to a positive drug test, they would also have to take (and pass) a drug test before being able to fly upon their return. For obvious reasons, the FAA wants to verify that a pilot with a previous history of drug use is now completely drug free before allowing them to fly again.
- Follow up drug test: These are similar to the drug tests issued when you return to duty. Assuming you pass that drug test, you’ll also have to take follow up drug tests to ensure you are maintaining your drug free status. The FAA requires that a pilot returning to work after a positive drug test take (and pass) 6 more random drug tests in the next 12 months.
What if a Pilot Fails a Drug Test?
Let’s take a closer look at what happens in the event a pilot fails a drug test.
If a pilot fails a drug test they are immediately removed from active duty and are not allowed to fly. This is to ensure that the pilot isn’t allowed to put his life or the lives of passengers and crew members at risk as they work through the next steps in the process.
Once a pilot fails a drug test, the airline they work for notifies the FAA as to what happened.
At this point the FAA will investigate the situation and determine what they want to do next. In some cases the FAA will want to further investigate and look into why the pilot was on the drug they tested positive for (the case of a prescription mishap, etc.) and in other cases they may issue an emergency order to revoke the pilots license/certifications.
At this point the pilot is no longer able to fly.
Is a pilot fired if they fail a drug test?
Not necessarily. Some airlines will allow a pilot to undergo substance abuse counseling. This gives the pilot the chance to work toward rehabilitations and someday earning back their pilots license.
As mentioned above, the FAA does have a program in place to drug test returning pilots when they are ready to return as well as on a more consistent basis for the first year they are back in the role.
What if a Pilot Refuses to Take a Drug Test?
Refusing to take a drug test can have serious implications for a pilot. After all, if you could just refuse to take a drug test then almost nobody would ever fail since you could just decline if you knew you were on drugs. This would not create a safe situation for anyone involved.
Instead, there are clearly stated punishments by both the FAA and by the airlines for a pilot if they refuse to take a drug test.
Here is a list of those punishments:
- The airline can ground, suspend, or terminate your employment based on their own internal policies
- The FAA can suspend your license immediately
- The FAA will also suspend any applications or renewals for your pilots license as well as any endorsements
To summarize, you probably won’t be flying any time soon if you decide to refuse taking a drug test.
What Drugs are they Tested For?
The DOT and FAA have a list of substances that they test for when administering a drug test to a pilot. Here is a list of substances they test for:
Any of the above substances being discovered in your drug test will make you fail the drug test.
Do Private Pilots Get Drug Tested?
The rules around drug testing for private pilots is different since it’s seen as being a certificate meant for hobbyists instead of professional pilots.
Private pilots are not subject to passing a drug test in order to earn their private pilot license. They are also not subject to FAA random testing.
The one scenario where a private pilot could be drug tested is in the case of an accident. The FAA investigates all aviation accidents in order to determine a cause and use that information to prevent future aviation accidents.
If you are flying as a private pilot and have some kind of accident the FAA may have you take a drug test so they can determine if drugs or alcohol played a role in the accident.
Do Recreational Pilots Get Drug Tested?
The recreational pilot license allows for a pilot to fly under very strict guidelines and does not allow them to have paid passengers or charge for their flights. It is aimed at hobbyists flying very small planes. Compared to other licenses, the recreational pilot license has much less stringent requirements all around since the goal is to allow more people to get into flying.
Due to these factors, you are not requires to take a drug test to earn your recreational pilots license.
Do Sport Pilots Get Drug Tested?
No, you do not have to take a drug test in order to earn your sport pilot license.
Much like the recreational pilot license, the sport pilot license has less requirements than some other pilot licenses due to it’s limited use for hobbyists.
Keep in mind that the FAA always reserves the right to drug test ANY pilot in the event of an aviation accident as part of their investigation.
Pilots take on a lot of responsibility when they fly. The safety of the crew and passengers on their aircraft is dependent on the pilots ability to perform their duties. None of us would want to get on an aircraft being flown by a pilot that is currently under the influence of drugs and nobody should have to. The FAA and the airlines take this very seriously and each have their own guidelines set up to make sure pilots are sober and not under the influence.
A key factor in making sure that pilots can perform their job functions safely is making sure they can pass a drug test.
For more information about the FAA’s drug testing program, check out their page here.