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A total of 38 US airline pilots tested positive for drugs or alcohol last year, official figures have disclosed.
Federal Aviation Administration figures showed that in random screening tests in 2015 ten pilots were found to be over the legal alcohol limit for flying an aircraft.
They were among 119 airline personnel — a category that also includes mechanics, dispatchers, ground security workers and air traffic controllers — who were above the legal limit, which in the airline industry is a blood alcohol level of 0.04%.
The failed tests represented a tiny minority of the 12,480 random sobriety tests that pilots submitted to last year, but they led to demands for mandatory breathalyser tests for all pilots reporting for duty.
One Alaska Airlines pilot allegedly flew a commercial flight from Alaska to Oregon and back while drunk. An American Airlines pilot was said to have failed two sobriety tests before a 7am flight out of Detroit, the Times reported.
Asked if there were any plans to make breath tests universal, an FAA spokesman said: “Our existing drug and alcohol testing and abatement programmes are robust. We have no plans to require sobriety tests.”
Such “bottle to throttle” incidents remain rare in the US airline industry, which is said to have one of the best safety records in the world.
Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the US National Transportation Safety Board, who is now a senior aviation consultant for O’Neill and Associates, said that alcohol addiction among pilots had been addressed by the unions and airlines.
“There are programmes both on the union level and at the major airlines that pilots can voluntarily go into,” he said.
Many argue that colleagues and flight crew also stop drunken staff from piloting aircraft.
New technology may soon further limit the possibility of an inebriated pilot taking the controls.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is supervising a research programme into “alcohol-detection technologies” that would prevent vehicles from being driven when a driver’s blood alcohol concentration exceeds the legal limit of 0.08%.
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