Drug testing catches out pilot in Melbourne

Flying high. Drug and alcohol testing is randomly conducted on pilots and others in the aviation industry. Credit Kristopher Allison https://unsplash.com/photos/KU4zYj4u0mo

Last week, mainstream media broke the news of a Jetstar pilot who had been stood down for drug-related offences. The suspension took place after authorities in Melbourne allegedly detected traces of drugs on the first officer’s luggage.

Is the suspension fair or harsh?

No drugs were actually found on the pilot or in his belongings in Melbourne and there’s no report of him failing drug testing, so some people may see the consequences as harsh. However, a Jetstar spokesperson in a Sydney Morning Herald article was unapologetic.

“We have zero-tolerance towards pilots operating under the influence of alcohol or other drugs and always undertake testing in accordance with aviation regulations,” a Jetstar spokesperson said.

While we can’t recall a case where a pilot has been suspended in this manner (it’s alleged that the trace amounts of drugs were discovered during random search of airline staff arriving in Melbourne) drug testing has certainly caught out pilots before. And with the aviation industry’s zero tolerance to drugs and alcohol due to the serious safety risk, the consequences are usually significant.

Drug and alcohol testing of pilots

Drug and alcohol testing of pilots and the zero tolerance approach can be traced back to 2002, following a single-engine plane crash that killed six people. The accident occurred on Hamilton Island and it was later found that the pilot had consumed alcohol and opioid medication the night before the crash and had cannabis in his system.

In 2004, following a detailed investigation, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau recommended mandatory alcohol and drug testing for pilots and others who work in the aviation industry. This includes any other flight crew, cabin crew, ground handlers, maintenance teams, refuellers and others.

CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) terms these employee roles as safety sensitive aviation activities or SSAA.

It’s CASA who is charged with conducting the drug and alcohol testing. It can be carried out in any aerodrome or airport facility at any time, without warning. CASA tests for alcohol, opiates, cannabinoids, cocaine and amphetamines. Like in any workplace, confirmation testing is completed and if a positive result is confirmed the person is prevented from returning to SSAA until a further investigation is completed.

Serious stuff, but then again, aviation certainly does carry serious safety risks.

Zero tolerance roles

The aviation industry is not the only industry that has zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol in some roles. You can find zero tolerance in other industries and roles where safety is an extremely high priority. For example, heavy truck drivers and explosive handlers.

On the whole, however, as we looked at in last week’s post, most roles aren’t zero tolerance. That doesn’t mean drugs and alcohol are tolerated, it simply means that drug and alcohol testing consequences aren’t as significant and can involve, for example, a caution, further education and possibly a support program.


Flying high. Drug and alcohol testing is randomly conducted on pilots and others in the aviation industry. Credit Kristopher Allison https://unsplash.com/photos/KU4zYj4u0mo

By Michael

Michael is the founder of Integrity Sampling and is responsible for overseeing all national operations. He is based at Integrity Sampling's head office in Melbourne and is also responsible for the co-ordination of drug and alcohol testing within Victoria, assisting in the implementation of drug and alcohol (fit for work) policies and the presentation of drug and alcohol education and awareness programs. You can connect with Michael Wheeldon on LinkedIn

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